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October 21, 2014 | 27th Tishrei 5775

Imagine

By Debbie Sadowsky
Imagine, what it would be like to go to bed thinking you had lucked out yet again, that your dear city had squeaked by another hurricane scare with damage yes, ....but certainly all in the fixable range.

Imagine, waking to realize that the floods were coming, the water would rise, would sit, would destroy, would strip all but your soul and the inner strength that you never knew you had….away.

Imagine, the ground drying, the streets cleared, the moment of permitted return but only to look, not to live as there would be no potable water, no electricity, no phones……

NO Birds.

Imagine, It’s 7 months later, yellow tape….. now red tape…. and still …. No home, no financial security, no idea if you can or want to return or where your future will be, who will be your children’s friends and teachers, and what will you be able to do to sustain the soul and inner strength that survived this horrific event.

7 months later….and still….no birds.

Now, Imagine, being surrounded by hope, by love, by the riches of support, from people who don’t even know you but want to protect and nurture you.

Imagine, always being the giver and now being the one who is given to.

Imagine, inhaling the strength of others and exhaling through open arms reaching out and becoming the giver yet again that you longed to be.

Imagine, what all of us, here tonight, can do to lift the spirits of the people who suffer still…... to keep financial support within reach and to facilitate the return of this unique and vibrant region that is more than it’s cultural splendor, it’s Jazz and extraordinary cuisine, it is a much needed port, a major oil producer, and a fishing capital.

We’ve all watched the news, we’ve all read the articles, images of devastation, frustration and hopelessness are possibly still fresh in our minds. New words have been added to our vocabulary, Levee Breach, Lower Ninth Ward, lake Ponchatrane, Katrina.

Many have donated financially, and surely most of us have questioned ….”What more can I do?”

Torah Teaches us commitment to social justice, to assist those in need….Tikun Olam

But now, 7 months since the worst natural disaster in American History has befallen the gulf coast region, now 7 months after the winds, the floods, the chaos,

The human suffering continues, The loss of property, services, everyday comforts that we take for granted remain the rule rather than the exception.

Prior to Monday night Ruth and I had never met and could never have expected to part 2 days later with such energy, such hope and determination, and such satisfaction in a newly formed friendship founded on a shared passion for Tikun Olam.

We spent an extraordinarily intense 2 days touring Post-Katrina New Orleans and meeting the leadership of the four Reform Synogogues there. Ruth stayed an additional day to volunteer.

This was my third Post Katrina visit to New Orleans. My Daughter Rachel who has lived there since 2000 had her own tumultuous experience there and my first two visits centered around those personal events. Having not been in contact with Rachel in the first four Post Katrina days and not knowing whether she had in fact survived the storm, evacuating only miles from the coast and remaining near Picayune, Mississippi which suffered extraordinary devastation as the eye of the storm passed directly over them, I had a sense of the emotion that fills the hearts of the New Orleaneans. Her story has a happy ending and, while those first two visits were gratifying, I was left with a sense of angst that I couldn’t do more to help the community as a whole. This trip satisfied that need and I hope will allow both Ruth and I to inspire and energize all of you too.

Southern hospitality lives……

“It ain’t no U-Haul, It’s where we’re going”

“There’s always a Parking spot in front….Don’t call just come on by” These are favorite quotes from the President of a small Reform temple nestled along the north shore of Lake Ponchetrane.

The storm came right before the High Holidays and when the North Shore Synagogue gathered it’s congregation together for services in the parking lot….in full view of their roofless and water damaged facility, Their leadership opened with….

“We’ve entered into the convenant of the Blue Tarp”

Blue has always been a significant color for Judaism. Blue Tarps covering, protecting our synagogues, our people….why not.

Heroism….

So many times in so many venues, we heard the words, we usually go on Missions…we are the givers…..we are the one’s who provide for others and the thought that now we are the receivers of assistance, the destination of missions, the needy…as it were…is both uncomfortable yet illustrative of how Jews as a community can band together, organize, and get the healing going.

The importance of family, immediate, extended, in fact, the national family is key to our movement, our religion, and to answering Katrina’s aftermath.

Jews have always been challenged by those that wish to separate us as a people and to dilute our resolve. In keeping with that history, Hurricane Katrina resulted in a diaspora of sorts, disconnecting the feeling of community that IS survival for our religion and for our people. However, the very first act of each heroic leader was to determine the whereabouts and status of each of their congregants and staff and to assist in the re-connection by way of long distance communication or provision of a safe place to be whether it be a Place to call home or a place worship. And some…are still the subject of the search. “We can’t get out of the cemeteries,” Rabbi Cohen of Temple Sinai told us to express his sadness over the loss of many of the elder congregants who provided so much character and color to the congregations but who, being frail from the start, could not withstand the enormity of the journey back.

Crucial was the philosophy of taking immediate action. There can be nothing more destructive than the feeling of powerlessness.

Immediate action, on the part of so many private citizens in New Orleans and beyond… effectively erased the negativity that would have delayed the healing and rebirth by Determining the needs and both seeking and accepting the help that was offered. A low socio-economic community in the heart of New Orleans …called The Mid City or Central City, and The affluent community along the North Shore of lake Ponchetrane did just this. As soon as they were able to get back to their neighborhoods, the gloves and boots went on and the clean up began without hesitating to see if the Red Cross or FEMA would come. When help was offered, they accepted it willingly regardless of any imagined political or religious agenda and consequently, they had their communities up and running.

Tulane University leadership followed this same protocol with the added luxury of having the financial backing to do so yet the results were the same…..effective and immediate.

Another common thread in the rebirth of New Orleans as a whole and of each of it’s communities is the need to provide an environment that people will want to remain in or come back to. Provision of health care, effective education, a functioning market, pharmacy, gas station, a place to buy socks, books, and believe it or not, a local place that would sort and deliver mail on a regular basis. If any of your kids have every played the computer game…Sim City, you will understand what I am illustrating. From the most basic needs on…….every aspect of life required and still requires attention. It’s an undulating organic evolutionary process that encompasses drawing people back who would both provide and require the services of everything imaginable, Health care workers, Attorneys, Accountants, teachers, Therapists, Office staff, store clerks, small business operators, skilled and unskilled labor and Contractors of all kinds.

Resilience….. certainly evident in the hearts and actions of the Jewish leadership even in the face of their own suffering, they reached out to assist others. But…..what about that vital quality in the children who endured this experience. Even their normal ability to bounce back from life’s bumps was challenged to the max. In some cases, it is the children who are the one’s holding together the families.

If New Orleans was a carefully constructed house of cards, Katrina’s winds blew the cards into the air and floated many of them away. The well-defined diversity that tended to divide people before was replaced with people helping people and organizations and commissions forming a coalition across ethnic, class, religion, and geographic lines. Taking the high ground, the neutral ground, as New Orleaneans call the median that separates roadways.

Pre-Katrina, New Orleans was dubbed ….”The city that CARE forgot…or that forgot to CARE”

And now??? Tulane is incorporating community service projects throughout their curriculum. Mardi Gras incorporated many floats whose themes were social action based.

I think I can speak for both of us saying that we returned with a surge of hope, vision, and commitment to leadership that we trust will be contagious so that the Gulf Coast region will remain at the forefront of our minds, and at the top of our To Do lists.

The Two Messages that we promised to convey tonight were

1) “Lo Tish Cach…….Don’t Forget us”

2) The six most important words…..To Dat To Dat Roba Thank you Thank you Very much.

And …. The birds? Well, let’s do what we can to provide the environment where people, vegetation, and yes …. birds can once again flourish.

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