Prominent rabbis have been urging their congregations to give generously to Hurricane Katrina relief funds, the most prominent being one set up by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which had raised more than $500,000 by early this week.
The scope of the disaster is reaching Southland Jews through media reports and other sources. At Rancho Park's Reform Temple Isaiah, Rabbi Zoe Klein received an Aug. 31 e-mail from a congregant worried about her relatives stuck in a New Orleans hospital.
"There is nine feet of water outside the hospital where they are staying," the message read. "They have their two children, a friend's child and my sister-in-law's two blind parents with them.... The generators have run out of fuel.
"They think they will be evacuated by boat to a dry area and then hope to drive out of town if they can find a car.... Would you mind saying a prayer and exercising whatever pull you have with G-d...."
In Westwood, Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe told a Sept. 3 Shabbat audience of more than 900 that "the best way to insure both the decency and the safety of the human community is, when we are the lucky ones, to give a model of what it means to have open hands and open hearts."
At Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, Reform Rabbi Steve Jacobs said the hurricane's aftermath is something that "has exposed the great poverty in America."
Among the many temples collecting donations is the Orthodox Young Israel of Century City. "We're going to send one check in the next few weeks," said Rabbi Elazar Mushkin. "You do not read this [hurricane] as a judgment of God. Planets are formed, tectonic plates shift, earthquakes occur and sometime innocent people die."
Some Sept. 3 bar and bat mitzvahs included hurricane donations, rabbis said.
Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge has collected more than 15,000 articles of clothing for shipping to Congregation B'nai Israel in Baton Rouge, La. B'nai Israel is providing shelter for 200-plus evacuees and requested clothing and baby items for immediate distribution.
Heading into the hurricane's devastation zone were two leaders of the L.A. chapter of the emergency-response volunteer group, Hatzolah. Rabbis Tzemach Rosenfeld and Chaim Kolodny arrived in Montgomery, Ala., on Labor Day to help out for at least a week, bringing with them a suitcase loaded with kosher food.
"We never know who we're gonna bump into," Kolodny said.
By early this week, the situation seemed to have improved for Jewish residents and other hurricane victims who'd survived. Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel sent out an e-mail stating that most Jews appear to have been evacuated.
In addition, he had instructions for families attempting to reunite. "Any New Orleans evacuees can report their whereabouts to email@example.com," he wrote. "There may be students from the affected areas studying here in Los Angeles. If so, they are asked to contact Hillel."
Fishel added that New Orleans' Jewish leaders are asking Jews elsewhere to avoid contacting either the New Orleans or Houston federation staff directly, but "to do so through the L.A. Federation."