(JTA) — It didn’t take long after Rabbi Uri Topolosky moved to New Orleans in 2007 for the moderate Orthodox rabbi to win plaudits for helping the city’s Jewish community heal following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The congregation Topolosky was hired to lead, Beth Israel, had seen its building destroyed during the hurricane and ever since had been meeting in a room at the local Reform temple. The first Shabbat he was in town, Topolosky made a point of participating not only in the Orthodox service, but in the Reform one, too.
Over the next six years, Topolosky expanded his congregation, helped Beth Israel erect a new building, put up an eruv enclosure in New Orleans and, at least when Katrina anniversaries rolled around, enjoyed a national reputation as an exemplar of Jewish interdenominational cooperation.
But this year’s Katrina anniversary finds Topolosky in a much different place: his new home in suburban Washington. Early this month, Topolosky, his wife and four children left the Big Easy for Maryland, where Topolosky will lead a small congregation in Rockville, Beth Joshua, and be a rabbi at the 700-student Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, which he attended. The congregation meets in the school.
Topolosky attributes his move to the deteriorating Jewish educational landscape in New Orleans, which he said no longer suits his kids’ needs.
“Part of me was very sad to move back to the Northeast,” said Topolosky, who grew up in the Maryland area and now has children ranging in age from 2 to 9. “But we really wanted to go back to a community where there was a job and there was a school.”
New Orleans’ Jewish school is in dire straits. After being shuttered for a year following Katrina, the school, established in 1996, has not managed to recoup its pre-storm enrollment of more than 80 students.