After Katrina, New Orleans Jews Bounce Back by Sticking to Polyglot Roots

Inclusive Tradition Helps Community Rebound From Storm

Comeback Story: The Jewish community in New Orleans has nurtured the inclusive spirit that is a hallmark of the city. That polyglot tradition has helped it bounce back from Hurricane Katrina and the financial crisis.
nola Community Day School
Comeback Story: The Jewish community in New Orleans has nurtured the inclusive spirit that is a hallmark of the city. That polyglot tradition has helped it bounce back from Hurricane Katrina and the financial crisis.

By Sharon Pollin

Published August 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Gumbo, the official dish of the state of Louisiana, combines many singular ingredients to create a beloved dish unique to this special part of our country. With foundations in many cultures — French, Spanish, African, indigenous, German and Spanish — gumbo describes the exciting diversity that is the New Orleans community. According to the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, this symphony of traditions has also helped shape a thriving 250 year-old pluralistic Jewish community in the Crescent City.

With a population of just 10,000 Jews, New Orleans is home to a thriving Jewish infrastructure. Four reform temples, two traditional Orthodox shuls, several flourishing Chabad centers, a blossoming conservative synagogue, one of the earliest PJ Library programs, three kosher dining options, and two Jewish day schools support a highly engaged Jewish community.

Sharon Pollin
nola Community Day School
Sharon Pollin

Eight years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina decimated our city and left an enduring impact on the New Orleans Jewish community. Immediately following the storm, this number dropped by one-third as families fled the city for safety.

Though tragic and devastating, the storm presented our community with an opportunity to grow, rebuild and revitalize itself through the collaboration of community organizations and implementation of innovative programs that helped residents move back home and welcomed newcomers from across the country.

Reflecting the community of which it is a part, the Community Day School of New Orleans embraces strong Jewish education and values the gumbo of its pluralistic population. This is a tradition that has only grown stronger as the city rebounds and rebuilds from the blows struck by Katrina.

The school straddles both our Jewish identity and the diversity of our student body. All of our students participate in daily tefillah, Jewish studies and Hebrew language classes. School concludes each Friday with Kabbalat Shabbat. Just as important, our program emphasizes walking through the world wearing Jewish shoes (in addition to a kippah!). Our behavior guidelines are based on Maimonides’ teachings of teshuva. Our community service engagement is spurred by our desire to help make the world whole, the process of tikkun olam. Our celebrations are tempered with the knowledge that others may be less fortunate and so are punctuated by the giving of tzedakah.

We visit our Jewish elders. Kashrut guidelines are in place, and a mashgiach supervises our kitchen.

Nationally, Jewish day schools are faced with changes and challenges. The economic downturn of 2008, the charter school movement, and the exciting developments in supplemental religious education have all impacted the day school landscape, leading to declines in enrollment and changing student populations. As each Jewish community is unique, so is the response of each Jewish day school.

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all anything for Jews, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution for Jewish day schools. What this day school is doing is embracing this opportunity to be inclusive and welcoming of all students, to innovate our curriculum, and to grow in a proactive manner that represents the needs of our community while maintaining the roux of our Jewish traditions. We choose the gumbo.

As the new Head of the Community Day School, I have experienced a warm Southern welcome that is unlike anything I’ve ever known. I have been embraced by this exceptional community, and have found it to be deeply committed to a successful future for the Community Day School here in New Orleans. Our foundation is based on a thousands-year-old tradition of Jewish wisdom and intellect, preparing each student to succeed, and to be a mensch, in the 21st century.

And that’s the flavor of the pluralistic gumbo that one finds here in the New Orleans Jewish community, one that will flourish in its own unique and diverse way for many years to come—one that I’m very proud to be a part of.

Sharon Pollin is the Head of School at the Community Day School in Metairie, Louisiana. She can be reached at spollin@communitynola.org


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!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • 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.