Reform Leaders to Visit New Orleans on Fact-Finding Mission April 3-6 Trip to Build Support for Continued Fund-Raising
Twenty Reform Jews from across the countryincluding several influential congregational rabbis and lay leaderswill spend April 3-6 in New Orleans on a fact-finding mission to build continued Reform Movement support for the efforts to sustain the New Orleans Jewish community.
As 75 percent of New Orleans Jews are Reform, the Reform Movement has been particularly committed to sustaining and rebuilding the community, which has played an important and historic role in the development of Judaism in North America. More than $3.5 million has been raised to help those affected by the storm (including $1 million given to general relief). But much more is needed for the congregations to remain viable until their members return and rebuild their homes and lives.
The tragedy of New Orleans may have faded from the front pages of the newspaper, but it has not been forgotten by the Jewish community, said Rabbi Marla Feldman, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. Reform Jews have been remarkably generous in their time and money to help this community survive.
Efforts undertaken by the Movement since Hurricane Katrina first hit include:
Emergency relief: Reform congregations across the country collected more than 3 million pounds of food and supplies for hurricane victims and sent them to a distribution center opened by the Union in Utica, Mississippi (See Jacobs Ladder http://www.urj.org/relief/hurricane05/katrina/jacobsladder/)
More than $3.5 million was contributed to the Unions Hurricane Relief Fund and distributed in cash and gift cards (see http://www.urj.org/relief/ for a list of agencies receiving grants)
The Union provided the resources for New Orleans evacuees to worship together on the high holy days in Houston and Jackson, MS.
The four Reform synagogues in New Orleans received direct grants to pay salaries of all full-time employees for four months.
The SOS New Orleans fund has raised more than $600,000 (including a matching grant from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of New Orleans) for continued aid to the four synagogues.
The Union co-sponsored a December Mitzvah Corps to New Orleans to help rebuild homes and will host a summer Mitzvah Corps in Mississippi.
Senior staff and lay leaders of the Union are providing ongoing support to help the congregations cope with immediate issues as well as plan for the future.
The North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods has moved its May annual Board Meeting to New Orleans.
Numerous congregations are sponsoring volunteer missions to help rebuild New Orleans and other areas devastated by the hurricane.
The April mission, sponsored jointly by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, is an opportunity for influential synagogue leaders to learn about the issues and bring the message home to their members. They will meet with the leaders of the four congregations as well as government officials. In addition, participants have the opportunity to stay an additional day for hands-on volunteer efforts.
Mark Wolfe, president of Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville, said the Greater New Orleans area Reform synagogues are determined to persevere, but we need help.
While our resilience and resolve are strong, it will be a difficult road for us to hoe if forced to do so alone. The course of our future will be closely linked to the continued support we receive from the Reform Jewish Community nationwide, he said. We are grateful to that community for all that they have done for us and for their continued generous support.
The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. Union services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC.