It Takes a Community: Katrina, Recovery, Resilience



Torahs being rescued from the flooded sanctuary. Photo from the website of Beth Israel.

Hurricane Katrina (and the man-made disaster of the levee breaks) struck Louisiana and Mississippi seven years ago today, with devastating effects. Now as the region prepares for Hurricane Isaac, we also remember Katrina.

In 2005, when Katrina struck, I was still living in the New Orleans area. The city and her surrounding suburbs were all affected. The Jewish community felt the wrath of the storm – particularly the Modern Orthodox synagogue, Beth Israel, which was destroyed.

At that time, I was Executive Vice President of Temple Sinai in New Orleans.  As a practicing Reform Jew, I had become involved with the local Federation, but, until then, I had not thought much about how our small Orthodox congregation benefited the whole Jewish community.  In the aftermath of the storm, every congregation, including mine, reached out to them to provide temporary worship space until they could figure out what to do next.  I found myself thinking about the interdependence of New Orlean’s Jewish community. and wondering how the loss of Beth Israel Congregation would affect the rest of our largely Reform contingent.



Rabbi Robert Loewy. From the Gates of Prayer website.

After Katrina it quickly became apparent that the Jewish community would either come together and survive as a whole or fall apart in individual efforts.  Nearly a quarter of local Jews permanently relocated in the months after the storm.  Those who remained had to embrace pluralism in a whole new way. We needed each other to survive and thrive as a Jewish community.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Robert Loewy, Metairie Reform congregation Gates of Prayer and Beth Israel formed a historical partnership, with the Orthodox congregation meeting in the Reform synagogue for the last seven years, until this past weekend.   Shared space, increased understanding and partnership between the two congregations taught the entire Jewish world the importance of community.