The 12,000 Jews of New Orleans

The Jewish community throughout southern the United States, and elsewhere as well, has awoken to the plight of their co-religionists affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 13:54

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, for instance, has established an emergency fund, and has already sent $100,000 to the Gulf Coast to support victims. The umbrella United Jewish Communities (UJC) has established a fund to aid victims in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, the Western Florida panhandle and other affected areas. Other Jewish groups that have established or opened relief funds for Katrina victims are the Union for Reform Judaism ("www.urj.org"), B’nai B’rith ("www.bnaibrith.org") and Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana ("www.chabadneworleans.com").

In addition to sending money, however, many Jewish households in the area have opened their doors to the refugees streaming out of New Orleans and other areas. Many of the 10-12,000 Jews of New Orleans came to Houston, where most of them appear to have family. "The Chabad of Houston community has thrown open its doors widely," wrote one displaced Louisiana Jew. "The Chabad staff here has been inundated with calls and emails offering to host people and give food."

Adam Bronstone, community relations director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, himself settled into temporary quarters at the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston on Tuesday. Nearly 150 New Orleans refugees have taken shelter in a Jewish camp - Henry S. Jacobs Camp - in Utica, Mississippi.

Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, who serves as Chabad Director in New Orleans' Tulane University, found refuge with his family at the the Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Center in Gainesville, Florida. He has established a type of command post there, helping other refugees communicate with relatives and find relief centers.

The New Orleans Chabad chapter is continuing its efforts on behalf of the local Jewish community via the internet. It explains the immediate needs in a terse paragraph:
"At present, the people of the New Orleans Metro area are uprooted from their homes and communities. Evacuees may be without permanent homes for a month or more. Homes, businesses and lives have been destroyed by this storm. For the next several weeks, Chabad is ready to provide assistance using its network of centers throughout the region. Chabad representatives are able to assist with food, finding housing, and providing spiritual and emotional comfort. We urge evacuees to turn to the local Chabad centers for assistance" - including those in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Tallahassee, and Atlanta.

Just before the storm hit, worshipers in New Orleans synagogues moved Torah scrolls out of what they thought was harm's way - but they have no way of knowing yet whether their efforts were not in vain.

Congregation Beth Israel in another hard-hit city, Biloxi, Miss., is located two blocks from the beach, in an area reportedly hit by 12 feet of water. No word has yet been received as to how the synagogue fared, but many buildings in the area were destroyed. Concern has also been expressed about Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, said to be the oldest Jewish house of worship in the U.S. outside of the original 13 colonies.


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