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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“It’s a very different profile of people moving here,” said Weil, who noted that local Jews have established jobs ranging from lawyers to artists who use recycled glass to create instruments. “There’s something rather unique, special and quirky about New Orleans that draws people to move here,” he said. “They love the music, the food, the architecture, and in New Orleans there is in fact a large Jewish singles scene.”

The Super Bowl will also bring a boost to Jewish businesses. Linda Waknin, chef and owner of Casablanca Restaurant, a local kosher eatery, said she has already received requests to cater to religious groups and fans who will be attending the game or hosting parties. Joel Brown, who 25 years ago opened the Kosher Cajun New York Deli and Grocery, said

the game’s arrival has led to an improved infrastructure, including fixed roads and trolley car line extensions.

New Orleans Jewish residents were excited at the economic boon expected from the game. According to a recent report by CBS, the NFL has said the Super Bowl can generate at least $300 million Super Bowl in revenue for a host city.

The arrival of the Super Bowl has, among other things, enabled local organizations to use the game as a fundraising tool. The Chabad Jewish Center of Suburban New Orleans is holding a Super Bowl pool, which is expected to raise $3,600.

A majority of Jews in New Orleans are — like other residents — fans of the New Orleans Saints. But they were still excited about the game. Meredith Grabek, a manager at the local federation, will volunteer in Super Bowl activities. Other prominent Jewish families were on the committees and boards responsible for bringing the game back to the city for the first time post-Katrina.

Grabek, who originally is from the Boston area, moved to New Orleans in 2008 to help Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps. She said that while the Jewish community is excited for the event and has begun to thrive in recent years, the game could also bring attention to neighborhoods in the area that are still struggling to recoup.

Others are using the Super Bowl week to show the extent to which New Orleans Jews are driving issues in the community and beyond. Schiller and the Tulane Hillel hosted the second of their “The Big Issue” panels, which examined major issues facing the National Football League and featured journalists from The New York Times and NPR, and NFL Players Association executives. Their first panel, focusing on politics, featured former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.

According to Stuart Rockoff, a historian at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, the first Jews arrived in New Orleans in the 18th century, despite French colonial laws that excluded Jews from Louisiana. The first congregation, Gates of Mercy, was built in 1827. Rockoff noted that Jews have always been tied into the broader community: In fact, members of Gates of Mercy, who often inter- married, were allowed to bury their spouses in the congregation’s cemetery.

Elite social clubs in the area did occasionally exclude Jews. But New Orleans Jews have long felt a connection with the city and as a result have been a driving force in its philanthropic scene.

“What’s good for the city is good for the Jewish community,” Weil said. “This is a city that knows how to host a great party.”

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com.


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