URJ Camp Staff Travels to Louisiana to Help Congregations Hit by Hurricane Laura

Here's what you can do to support impacted Reform congregations in the area
September 4, 2020Anna Herman

It is likely that before last week, many of you had never heard of Lake Charles, LA. But here at URJ Jacobs Camp, we know it well, along with the small but special Jewish communities there and throughout southwest and central Louisiana.

Congregations of the Deep South have always referred to Jacobs Camp as their camp. Jacobs Camp was truly built by each and every congregation and not one sole donor; this is unique to Jacobs Camp and to the Deep South. Our connection to our partner congregations is intertwined in the fabric of our camp, and therefore we are always present for our communities in their times of need.

Guided by the Jewish value of tikkun olam, we were called to action after Hurricane Laura tore through southwest and central Louisiana.

Immediately after the storm, we contacted our camp families, donors, and friends to make sure they were safe and to understand their needs. We wanted them to know that their camp was there for them. As word came back, we began to understand the devastation our community was facing. Families in Lake Charles, Alexandria, and Southwest Louisiana had been hit hard; it was clear that they needed short-term emergency help before mold set in and caused further damage.

The next day, we reached out to a network of nearby friends to go to Lake Charles. My husband Nadav and I were joined by our camp chair, Gary Lazarus, and his sons, Rabbi Lexi Erdheim and former staff member Aaron Posner, to get to work. Gary had this to say about his experience on-site:

“My boys and I marked the Katrina anniversary by going to Lake Charles. I wanted them to see, smell, hear, and feel the aftermath of a storm like this. To see it through their eyes showed me that they get it now. The people in Lake Charles are amazing. The residents, workers, and responders are positive, friendly, and making fast progress. Still, they have a tall mountain to climb.”

The synagogue in Lake Charles sustained heavy damage. After our visit on Saturday, our friends in New Orleans jumped in their car to rescue the Torah scrolls and keep them safe. The Torah is the Tree of Life, and they wanted to make sure Lake Charles knew that these Trees of Life would be kept safe. The synagogue in Alexandria has suffered damage, too.

For these small Jewish communities, the synagogues are the hub of their Jewish life. We are so grateful to see our community step up to restore these houses of worship.

Being in Lake Charles showed me first-hand the damage inflicted by the storm, and I now know our community needs to focus its efforts to support this region. The needs of the impacted community are great; help and resources are in higher demand than ever, yet resources and attention are diminished because of COVID-19’s economic and emotional toll.

We know that in addition to short-term help in Lake Charles, only a long-term strategy can help the entire region recover. The URJ is proud to partner with the Jewish Federations of Greater New Orleans; Greater Baton Rouge, and North Louisiana and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana to create a relief fund for those in areas impacted by Hurricane Laura.

There is great work to be done, and we need your assistance. There are two ways our region and the greater Jewish community can help:

  • Support NECHAMA: Jewish Response to Disaster: NECHAMA is a Jewish disaster response agency that is ready to act fast; they’re currently assessing and organizing volunteer efforts needs in southwest and central Louisiana. You can donate or sign up to volunteer at their website.

Thank you for your generous support. The continuity of Deep Southern Judaism is so important, and we will do everything we can to support these communities as we stand beside them to rebuild.

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