Jewish Big Easy's Back — In Time for Super Bowl

New Orleans Community Trumpets Comeback After Katrina

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By Seth Berkman

Published February 01, 2013.
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The Jewish Big Easy is back — and the Super Bowl proves it.

New Orleans Jews are eagerly trumpeting Super Bowl XLVII as a means to showcase their rebuilt community, almost seven and a half years after it suffered a devastating drop in population following Hurricane Katrina.

“We were impacted by Katrina just like everyone else,” said Rabbi Robert Loewy, of Congregation Gates of Prayer. “As proud New Orleanians, we are delighted to see the Super Bowl hosted here.”

Yossie Nemes, rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center of Suburban New Orleans, said the big game is evidence that the Crescent City has come all the way back.

In fact, the population of Jews in New Orleans now is higher than it was before the storm, having gone from 9,500 then to 9,800 today, according to Michael Weil, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.

That represents a stunning turnaround. Weil noted that after Hurricane Katrina, some 3,000 to 3,500 of New Orleans’s were displaced. And an aging Jewish population threatened to decrease those numbers even greater in the years afterward.

“The city is really coming back in good shape; the Jewish community is strong now,” said Nemes. “The synagogues, Chabad, federations — everyone is positioned possibly stronger than before, and hopefully anticipating good times again.”

The biggest game in American sports will return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, for the first time since 2002. Nemes said his phone has been “ringing off the hook” with calls from Jews in Baltimore and San Francisco since the conclusion of the conference championship games January 20, which saw the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens punch their tickets to New Orleans. Callers are inquiring about Jewish life in the city, said Nemes, and he has been helping prospective

visitors locate kosher restaurants and lodging, as area hotels have been booked for months.

Michael A. Bernstein, who became senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Tulane University in 2007, arrived in the city two years after Katrina when there were still “FEMA trailers everywhere,” he said. Bernstein hailed the return of the game as “a moment of pride” and “a symbol of our resilience, rebirth and revitalization overall.”

Thousands of Jewish volunteers arrived to help with the city’s rehabilitation after the storm, and hundreds of them stayed behind, drawn to an accessible Jewish life and to the city’s own brand of eccentricity.

Rabbi Yonah Schiller, executive director of Tulane’s Hillel, said he moved to the city in 2008 because it held tightly “to its rich unique culture while setting out to reimagine and reinvent what it wanted to be, as it transitioned from recovery to renewal,” a process he termed “very Jewish.” Schiller said New Orleans leads the country in startups-per-capita and is among the highest-ranking metro areas for employment growth. “The Jewish community has been part of that process,” he said.

Adding to the enticement of settling down in the Big Easy were grants and complimentary memberships to local synagogues and organizations, offered by the local federation.


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