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Jewish relief effort

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2005-09-01

Impact on New Orleans

Impact on New Orleans

Jews across America, Britain, Israel and the rest of the world have lent their support to the relief efforts of those affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

With hundreds of thousands of people made homeless and hundreds dead, an appeal has gone out to help those in the areas devastated - Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Western Florida.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC) is working with its federations across the United States to help those in need. Around 12,000 Jewish people are said to have left New Orleans.

"The Jewish community has always been at the forefront of responding to human and natural disasters, and playing a major role in alleviating such devastation," said Carol Smokler, chair of the UJC Emergency Committee. "Hurricane Katrina is taking a human, emotional and property toll of historic proportions."

Eric Stillman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Orleans, joined the many who evacuated to safety. "I greatly appreciate knowing that Jews from across our country and in Israel have contacted me to offer help and words of compassion,” he said from Houston. “I am truly and sincerely touched on behalf of the Jewish community of greater New Orleans.”

A colleague of Mr Stillman, Adam Bronstone, director of communications for the Federation expressed his worries to the JTA. "You’re worried about the place you live in; the place you work; the synagogue I go to, which is near the lake; the federation office, which is on a beautiful campus that’s only three years old and is also near the lake. I worry about where I’m going to be next week.”

Mr Bronstone also went to Houston where he got refuge in the shape of help and support from the local community. "In times of need, Jews always help each other. This is one of those times.”

Offering help to Jews in distress and need is Chabad of New Orleans who also have a website dedicated to the work they are doing and the unfolding situation revealed through articles on the site as well as a blog.

One entry read: "People are looking at dislocation for a month or more, and the Chabad Network is ready to help people that need spiritual, emotional and material support. I want to urge any evacuees in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Talahassee, or Gainesville to contact the local Chabad House. Rabbis are waiting for your call."

One Chabad Rabbi stayed in his home.  The blog said: "Rabbi Nemes (director of Chabad of Metairie) managed to reach his parents in New York, in a brief phone conversation. He is OK, but he is stuck in his home in Metairie (Jefferson Parish, )with water on the first floor. They have been on the second floor for two days, and they are still OK. Rabbi Nemes stayed because he was contacted by a few people that were stuck in the city and were afraid to shelter in the Superdome. So, he and his family invited them into his home to ride out the storm. They are now 13 people on the second floor, waiting to be rescued. They are running our of drinking water, and cannot boil more, because the stove is on the first floor.

Also leaving New Orleans was Shalom Y'All documentary makers Brian Bain and Susan Levitas.

The 2003 release showcased the history of Jews in the Deep South and may now be the last recording on film of many Jewish places and sites which are likely to have been badly damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Writing on their website, the following message was posted: "We both left the city well before the storm. Susan is in Atlanta and Brian is in Dallas. We are reachable by email. As I am sure you know by now, hurricane Katrina has devastated New Orleans. We may not be able to return home to New Orleans for weeks or possibly months and the status of our homes is questionable at best. While we are rebuilding and re-accessing the damage the site will no longer be transactional. Many thanks for your care and concern."

In an editorial the Baltimore Jewish Times said: "The suffering of Jews, of course, is but a small part of all that has happened. Still, as is natural, our minds at first turn to the synagogues, Jewish schools and damaged cemeteries. In repairing them, we must broaden our efforts to the entire community. And in doing so, we must make it known that we respond as Jews, ones adhering to both communal and global commands to help our neighbours in need."

To offer help and support, visit: www.ujc.org