New Orleans Jewish institutions remained closed Thursday as the region continued to bear the torrential rains and winds of a new massive storm.
Just down the road from where the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America had concluded a day earlier, more than a thousand of the federation system’s most generous women found a philanthropic sanctuary of their own.
Except for one unfortunate metaphor, it was a brilliant idea to host the annual meetings of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans.
Iran must face a "credible military threat" because sanctions have not deterred its nuclear weapons program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The Jewish federation system is set to kick off its annual General Assembly in New Orleans with an eye toward figuring out how to reach those not typically associated with Jewish federations.
A New Orleans synagogue destroyed by Hurricane Katrina will break ground on a new building.
Preservation Hall's formula was simple and is followed to this day: No reservations, no food, just music in a small room. Shows began at 8 p.m. Each set lasted around 35 minutes, and tickets were priced low (they're now $10 a show, Wednesday through Sunday)
I just have to read what I wrote one week after Katrina, or during that first year when I was living in exile in Baltimore, to churn up the emotion and passion that is life in New Orleans these days. It is precisely this intensity that keeps me here.
Having participated in the Milken Conference in April and traveled to Plaquemines two weeks later, I was struck by the chasm between the viewpoints expressed in these two locales, a divide that I believe underscores one of the most significant challenges to full and meaningful recovery for the Gulf region.
I am a New Orleans Jew. The values of those identities fuel me like the smooth-yet-caffeinated drink that is the trademark of my hometown. I embrace the changing communal calendars and the rituals for their observances of joy and tragedy. These have taught me what it means to be human and how to extract eternity from the changing seasons.
It's time for Jonah again. I cherish this prophet, whose Hebrew name, "Yonah" means "dove,"
Jewish piracy has been around since well before the Barbary pirates first preyed on ships during the Crusades. In the time of the Second Temple, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that Hyrcanus accussed Aristobulus of "acts of piracy at sea."
One year after "the storm," as New Orleanians refer to Hurricane Katrina, Jewish communal leaders describe the health of the community with certain expected terms -- loss, trauma, devastation and challenge.
Driving through the deserted streets of New Orleans, we peered through the windows of our charter bus and watched as we drove past miles of destroyed homes. As we approached our destination, Waveland, Miss., the houses became increasingly tattered and decayed; on some lots, only kitchen floors remained. As we approached the shore and our worksite came into view, the entire bus was silenced by the broad stretches of land where only the scattered debris of homes remained.
Think of New Orleans music and you don't usually think of Hebrew or Yiddish song. But Hebrew, Yiddish and English tunes filled the ears of nearly 1,000 music lovers last weekend as a variety of acts -- ranging from New York pop singer Gershon Veroba to Moldovan crooner Efim Chorny -- converged on New Orleans for a two-day benefit concert.
Hot on the heels of Mardi Gras, a recovering Big Easy will soon play host to the inaugural New Orleans International Jewish Music Festival. The two-day gathering on April 1-2 will celebrate the rebuilding of Jewish New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
"I think of Pompeii," wrote Anne Brener in a September article for The Jewish Journal. "New Orleans was so beautiful."
The recent tragic hurricanes in the South have been difficult to watch.
I've always kept a mental list of places about to disappear, such as the ruins of Angor Wat in Cambodia. Never -- ever -- was New Orleans on that list.
"It is not in our hands to explain the prosperity of the wicked or even the sufferings of the righteous." So said Rabbi Yannai in the Mishna some 2,000 years ago. The Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) insists "there is no reward for mitzvot in this world." We have had a long time to read and understand the Book of Job, and we know that the calculus of reward and punishment is more perplexing and agonizing than we can know.
Than we can know, but not, apparently, than Rav Ovadiah Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel, can know. Rav Ovadiah is an ilui, a genius of halacha.
His memory is astonishing, his range remarkable. Unfortunately, his theology is appalling.
It was hard to be in Los Angeles in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, perhaps the biggest natural disaster in our history. I had some previous Red Cross training, and, with some additional fast-track prep on disaster response, I was on my way to Louisiana -- first by plane to Houston, then by car to Baton Rouge.
Lodging on one of the first nights was the floor of a church gymnasium. At times, I felt like I was part of a sad "Amazing Race," hurrying throughout Louisiana to provide some assistance to some of Katrina's victims.
My friend's tale is one among tens of thousands; many are far more devastating, as families are dealing with the deaths of loved ones and the loss of nearly everything they own. As New Orleans is dredged, the true scope of the devastation will be understood. Already, the evacuees realize that a return to their former lives in that wonderful city may take months or years, and that some things may never be recovered. Into that disheartening reality, the Jews of Los Angeles and elsewhere have stepped in willingly and generously to help as they can, exactly as their religion says they should. And all the fractiousness, all the confusing, competing layers of the various Jewish organizations have seemingly melted away, coordinating the relief aid very much as they were designed to do.
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.
Earlier this summer, Shana Leonard gave up her Fairfax District apartment to move to New Orleans and be near her 82-year-old father, legendary jazz photographer Herman Leonard. But late last month, the 33-year-old single mother, who also cares for her wheelchair-bound 10-year-old daughter, India, found the three of them among the thousands racing to escape from New Orleans.
President Bush and Congress talk a good game when it comes to homeland security, but the tragic truth is that the country is less able to cope with disasters than before Sept. 11, 2001. The proof is on the flood-ravaged streets of New Orleans, where an unprecedented natural disaster quickly produced violent anarchy and a flaccid government response that multiplied the suffering.
For all the money thrown at preparing for massive terror attacks and other disasters, the new Department of Homeland Security looked more like a Third World bureaucracy, as armed gangs roamed the city and people died for lack of food, water, sanitation and medical supplies.
We will be admonished not to make politics out of tragedy, but we have a responsibility to figure out what went wrong with the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Today, far too often, tragedy is employed as an incantation to ward off responsibility. (Try Googling the phrase, "The events of today were tragic, but ..." to get a taste of what I mean.)
Tragedy is an idea we get from the Greeks -- human life as a grand, hopeless struggle against our own flaws and unloving celestial forces that conspire to bring us down. Tragedy is a spectacle, provoking a catharsis composed, in Aristotle's phrase, of "pity and terror" in the spectator -- but not outrage. To call something tragic is to take a stance of elegiac distance. The world view that produced the idea of tragedy also produced great thinkers and artists, but it did not produce prophets.
In New Orleans, the Jews are the only ones buried in the ground. Others, if their mourners have any means at all, are laid with the expectation of eternal rest in stone crypts to protect them from rising waters. My mother used to say, "Someday, we Jews'll all be floatin' down the river."
Just as in California, where we know that one day "the big one" will come, in New Orleans, we knew that someday the water would overtake us. But the denial overtakes the wisdom, and we stay and build lives. I think of Pompeii. New Orleans was so beautiful.
Stepping up to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, Jewish day schools opened their doors to evacuees, families welcomed strangers into their homes, Jewish rescue squads searched through the storm's wreckage and Jewish organizations raised millions of dollars for those whose lives were turned topsy-turvy by the deadly storm.
Houston has quickly become a major haven for victims who have been left, for the moment at least, without homes. The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston quickly jumped into action to aid the beleaguered evacuees, Jew and non-Jew alike.
The gut-wrenching scenes of human suffering witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are not only the result of the levee failures at Lake Pontchartrain, but also the failure of a nation numbed to the growing division between "haves" and "have-nots."
What is appearing on television sets across America is the inevitable impact of decades of ignoring a stark difference in economic realities. While wealthy, predominantly white Gulf residents -- and most Jews -- were able to leave the region or escape to higher ground, it was poorer, largely black, elderly and sick Americans who were left behind to fend for themselves.
In the case of New Orleans, high poverty rates already existed before the storm: More than 30 percent of the population lived below the federal poverty line. These are, in most cases, the victims whose bodies we saw floating in the Mississippi River and dying for lack of basic necessities at the New Orleans Convention Center and Superdome.
The theme of this year's Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was "2001: A Space Fallacy," and the Jewish contingent, masked as the Cohenheads, hora-ed its way through the French Quarter behind the Mothership Yentaprise, tossing out a thousand Star of David-emblazoned bagels to the hungry masses.