Moving Torah Scrolls as Isaac Roars

Jews in New Orleans Prepared for Storm's Lashing

Memory of Katrina: Isaac was no Katrina. But New Orleans Jews weren’t taking any chances.
getty images
Memory of Katrina: Isaac was no Katrina. But New Orleans Jews weren’t taking any chances.

By JTA

Published August 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Of all the unknowns being discussed as Hurricane Isaac approached New Orleans, members of Congregation Shir Chadash knew one thing for certain.

“Nobody wanted to be the person that said, ‘Oh let’s not move the Torahs this time,’” said Rabbi Ethan Linden. “We sort of went into our hurricane action mode and did the best we could.”

One of the iconic photographs of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the region exactly seven years ago, was of men waist deep in flood waters carrying Torahs from Congregation Beth Israel.

So prior to what became a Category 1 hurricane and has since been downgraded to Tropical Storm Isaac, members of Shir Chadash moved the scrolls to a higher location in the building. Fortunately, as waves of rain lashed the area this week, the synagogue sustained no damage other than one leaky door in the chapel and a knocked-down playground fence, according to Shir Chadash executive director Sandy Lassen.

And unlike tens of thousands of other structures in the region, the building still had electrical power. In fact, it was hosting in its freezers the food of the New Orleans Jewish Day School – all while preparing for a bar mitzvah this Shabbat. For its part, the caterer for the event, Kosher Cajun New York Deli, lost power and closed down.

“We have enough food here that I’ll cover with lox and bagels,” Lassen told JTA.

Isaac pummeled the region with winds up to 80 miles per hour and drove walls of water up to 11 feet high inland. On Aug. 29, 2005, the relentless rain of Katrina, by then a Category 3 hurricane, led to the breaching of levees in the New Orleans, flooding it and destroying swaths of neighborhoods. In the years since the storm, $14.5 billion has been put into a new system of levees, walls, pumping stations and flood gates, almost all of which seem to have performed well in recent days.

“I’ve been checking and so far there’s no significant damage and we haven’t heard of any people who have anything untoward going on,” said Michael Weil, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. “I peek out the window and the sun is shining with some clouds, but we’re expecting more rain.”

In an email he sent to community members on Wednesday, Weil wrote, “I think that the worst is over and now it’s just rain, lots of rain and more rain. By all accounts this massive 300-mile wide and deep storm is crawling its way up Louisiana. I think Isaac likes us more than we like him and he wants to stay.”

Jewish agencies remained closed Wednesday and Thursday. Weil emailed a list of emergency numbers and an emergency email address, emergency@jewishola.com. The federation voice mail will be updated with community information as needed, he said. “You are not alone,” he wrote in his email.

Alan Smason, editor of the local Jewish paper, the Crescent City Jewish News, said that like most people he was relieved when the winds began dying down Thursday morning.

“A few pieces of the soffit flew off my house, and whenever there’s a major storm I have some problems with my downstairs,” he said. “Surprisingly, we did not have any major flooding in my area.”

He spent Thursday morning touring the suburb of Metairie, what he called “the Jewish corridor,” and said he saw little damage to Jewish institutions. He did see the sign of Beth Israel – the only synagogue irreparably damaged by Katrina and which dedicated its new building on Sunday – barely attached to the sign frame, so he reattached it, he said.

This Friday evening will mark the last time this season that the community’s three Reform congregations will worship together – a summertime tradition. This week’s host, Gates of Prayer, has power and is welcoming the community for a “blue jeans” Shabbat.

One of Shir Chadash’s family’s did survive a dramatic rescue. With water rising, a husband and wife were waiting in their car for a National Guard boat. They called their daughter on their cell phone, who called Shir Chadash. From there, Lassen called the rabbi to alert him. The couple was rescued and are now OK.

Despite the coinciding dates of Katrina and Isaac, Linden said he did not necessarily see a heavenly hand in such matters.

“I don’t think of these things theologically,” he said. But, he added, “Ritual offers the restoration of normalcy and that’s part of what we can provide,” he went on. “New Orleans is a great place. People came together and I know they’re now staying at each other’s houses and helping each other out and there’s something very powerful about that.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.