Hurricane Harbor

A writer and a tropical muse. A funky Lubavitcher who enjoys watching the weather, hurricanes, listening to music while enjoying life with a sense of humor and trying to make sense of it all!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Chabad Helps A Little, Gives A Lot in New Orleans... cleaning up after Katrina

I meant to post this on Friday but I left work early to go home and cook for Shabbos and got busy with a search for Challah... never got back to posting it.... so I guess there will be two back to back Tulane Posts...though not on purpose.

Yes... the weather department mentioned a cold weekend up north and snow birds flew south immediately on Jet Blue and bought out all of the local freshly baked Challahs in Miami. It is a sign winter has arrived when you go into your local, neighborhood kosher market and it is full of people you have never seen before and there is no Challah (egg bread) left on the shelves.

Winter has arrived and you have to go shopping on thursday to be sure you will get what you want. No more.. running in last minute at 3pm to pick up just a few things.

A strong cold front arrived... along with the snow birds ...

Turkey Hawks back circling the court house and Snow Birds swooping down grabbing all the stuff off the shelves. Is anyone left in Brooklyn I wonder sometimes this time of year.

Oh.. yes.. my son and daughter.

So... back to the blog :)

Over this past winter break college students from various parts of the country participated in going down to New Orleans on a Chabad sponsored trip to help clean up as much as they could. They worked in synagogues, they worked in cemetaries, they worked helping locals who have had problems cleaning up themselves.

I'm sure that the memories of their winter vacation will stay with them for years... as they will have witnessed first hand what many only witnessed while watching CNN and Fox... to see hurricane damage or more so flood damage first hand is humbling. The power of water when on a rampage ... beats almost any other possible damage from a weather event.

Just the weight of the water can wash out roads, buckle highways and foundations to buildings that were once thought of as historic or rustic and are now crumbling in places and need repair.

Many students from many parts of the country and many different types of youth groups have gone down and helped... I know people who went on this trip and so that is the link I have... you can multiply their work by the number of others from all walks of life who have given their time to help others recover their lives after Katrina rerouted many lives this summer.

In the case of Jews.. .Orthodox Jews we hold Torah Scrolls sacred, as we do prayer books and they are treated with the same care you would treat an injured person, they are even buried as opposed to being thrown out. I have heard from students that went from the University of Miami that to see prayer books that had been used for hundreds of years in syngaogues there ruined, destroyed and covered in mud is painful and sad.

Trees oddly are also compared to people...they have lives, they grace our lives and touch us deeply in ways. When a large ficus tree is gone, uprooted and cut away bit by bit... it leaves an ache..a scar of sorts upon the land. Every Shabbos I pass a house I never saw before... there was a beautifully large, carefully trimmed big ficus tree that covered the front yard and was a local landmark. Some say that the tree was over 100 years old and planted by early settlers in the North Miami Beach area... either way.. it's gone, and every time I pass it... the ghost of that tree lingers.

The road back to normal is a slow road... faster in Miami than New Orleans.

People have died and are still being found. Just the other day it was announced that the body of one of the Cowsill Family Band members was found drowned in New Orleans ... a casualty of Katrina.

People... trees... memories... all gone, all uprooted... and survivors are trying to put back the pieces of their lives.

If you know of a group that is going and you know someone who can give your time.. keep it in mind, it will take months to finish the clean up and there is a race against time right now for the people of New Orleans especially to clean up their city.

Lastly... a note... though many people think that Jews are all from New York it is not true. Jews lived and worked in the South for years before the first immigrant landed at Ellis Island on ship trying to escape Russia or Hungary. German Jews lived and worked all over the South in the early and mid 1800s, before that Sephardic Jews with ties to the Caribbean lived in places like Savannah and Charleston ...and New Orleans. English Jews were at home in the South way back when... The Vice President of the Confederacy was a Jew.. Judah Benjamin. There is a heritage that goes back to the early 1800s in the south.. even further and New Orleans was a city that hosted many Jewish families... way back when. The synagogues and cemetaries that were destroyed are centuries old in some areas.

My grandmother lived in the Garden District.. many Jews did. This is not the first time a storm has affected their lives... they have been lucky like most of us across the Hurricane Belt... places like Tampa and Jacksonville... places like Miami and Galveston... history repeats eventually given enough time.

In the mid 1970s Chabad went to New Orleans and set up a Chabad House near the campus of Tulane University and they have had a strong presence in and around the university there for years. For a Miami kid growing up here to get into Tulane was akin in some parts of the country to getting in to Harvard or Yale.. a big deal.

Not enough has been written about the history of Jews in the South, maybe in ways people will learn more now about New Orleans while it is being rebuilt than they knew before. It is more than just the French Market. It is more than just a riverboat ride up the Mississippi.. It was and is a city that was made up of many minorities, many people from all walks of faith, from all life styles.

As a friend on Hurricane City told me... they wanted to help someone locally who needed help, for free... the only caveat being one day that person should help another in need. it goes... you Help a little... you help a lot... and for those kids who traveled down to New Orleans and helped do what they could....they will remember forever I am sure... it should only be the beginning of lives spent trying to help people... to do a mitzvah.. a good deed.


From Oregon Daily Emerald....
Salvaging homes, restoring lives
Two UO students spent part of their winter break clearing out ravaged houses in New Orleans
By Philip Ossie BladineNews Reporter
January 12, 2006

For one week during winter break, Matt Peterson and Laneia Seumalo scooped muck, carted out moldy furniture, gutted waterlogged homes and heard one tear-jerking story after another in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

“You don’t realize the full impact of what happened until you’re there,” Seumalo said.

The two University students joined students from more than 30 U.S. colleges to converge in New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, part of a joint project between the Chabad on Campus National Foundation and Lubavitch Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center at Tulane, whose efforts have been praised by President Bush.

“You go into a house and find everything on the floor,” Seumalo said.

“It’s a mess,” Peterson added. “There is bed stuff in the kitchen, books in the fireplace and there is six inches of mud over all of it.”

Peterson said they went through about 25 houses in the seven days they were there, raking everything out of the house and taking sledge hammers to walls. The goal was to salvage the frame of each house.

“All these people had hurricane insurance, but they were without flood insurance. So they are getting no help financially,” Peterson said.

With each destroyed house came a unique case, but most stories were essentially the same.
“A lot of people said ‘I lost everything, but thank God I survived,’” Peterson said.

There was one man who collected precious Judaic art, antiques and Salvador Dali paintings. At one residence, an elderly couple walked through their home of 50 years, which never once had water damage.

One man asked the group to “keep an eye out for a snowglobe with a picture of my son and his ashes in it,” Peterson said.

“We worked the whole day, and in the seventh hour we finally found it,” Peterson said. “It was nice to give him back the one thing he wanted most.” Martin Lewiston, a retired surgeon, told the group there was no way, emotionally, he could have repaired his home by himself and that the group had given him hope, which he hadn’t had since Katrina struck, Peterson said.
Peterson said the hardest thing for him was gutting a 100-year-old synagogue and seeing the many Torahs, the most sacred of Jewish texts, that were ruined.

“It meant so much to so many people,” he said. “We listened as Jacob, a board member, told us through tears about his experiences there over the last 20 years.”

On the last day, the group buried thousands of Judaic holy books and objects, a ceremony as sacred as burying a person.

The recovery mission was part of Chabad on Campus’ ongoing relief effort. Chabad provides a variety of services and an open house for Jewish students and faculty on every college campus, said Rabbi Asi Spiegel, the director of the University’s Chabad Jewish Center. When disaster strikes, Chabad becomes an agency for helping all people, not just Jewish people.

“This comes from deep teachings of Judaism to help those in need,” Spiegel said. “The feedback from the missions have been amazing. We may do another one during spring break.”
Seumalo and Peterson both said they would go back if the chance comes.

“All the students came from different places and have different backgrounds, but we worked together beautifully,” Seumalo said. “But there is still so much left to do.”

“When you’re doing a holy job, there is no ego,” Peterson said. “You’re ready to drop whatever you’re doing to help somebody. The orders are given in a matter-of-fact way, maybe there was a ‘please,’ maybe not — it didn’t matter.”

Peterson also recommends to anyone that wants to donate money to go through the Chabad House of Tulane University.

“Every penny goes to the right place,” he said.


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