Our rabbis taught that when Abraham challenged God's Divine decision to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham passed God's test of demonstrating individual responsibility for the world. Abraham, responding to the possibility that innocent people would suffer, did not turn his back on injustice in the world. Judaism's gift to western religious thought is the idea of the defiant man of faith. A Jew is a believer of unshakable faith who is horrified by worldly misery and refuses to accept tragedy and suffering.
During Hurricane Katrina, the convulsive, unpredictable powers of nature unleashed chaos and death in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area. Jews in Houston, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas and in other cities across North America, responded with the profound faith and defiant activism that our Torah mandates. Indeed, every single congregation in our movement played a role, sheltering the displaced and providing supplies, money and volunteers.
Members of our New Orleans congregations have been displaced, some temporarily and others permanently. They have lost livelihoods and homes. Some children will spend their school year in unfamiliar settings. We applaud those communities that have contributed to the work of tikkun olam and have welcomed evacuees into their homes, their schools, their synagogues and their hearts.
The Union for Reform Judaism's Disaster Relief fund raised over three million dollars, half of which went to general relief throughout the Gulf Coast region. In addition, the Jacobs' Ladder project provided more than three million pounds of goods to evacuees from these communities. Both the Greene Family Camp and Henry S. Jacob's Camp became havens of refuge for more than five hundred evacuees. Although our government was willing to subsidize some of these efforts, the Union has rejected any offer of government-funded financial reimbursement. We religious people do what we do because it is God's work and it is right. People of faith do not need government handouts to do what God expects of us.
Two and a half months after Hurricane Katrina's wrath, portions of New Orleans remain desolate-without water, electricity, or families. In the Lakevue District, deluged by the 17th Street Canal breach, once beautiful and welcoming homes stand empty, stripped to their very beams. Nearly 25 percent of the Jewish community once celebrated Shabbat in those homes. Prior to the storm, 75 percent of the New Orleans' Jewish community was comprised of Reform Jews. The existence and vibrancy of the New Orleans' Jewish community depends upon the return and restoration of our synagogue communities. Our congregations need both our consolation and our practical help. To that end, a new Union relief fund has been launched to assist the four New Orleans congregations that have suffered unprecedented losses.
THEREFORE, THE UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM RESOLVES TO:
- Commend the numerous acts of tzedakah performed both by individuals and congregations in bringing multiple forms of assistance to our sister congregations in New Orleans and the affected areas in the Gulf Coast;
- Call upon the U.S. government to assume the role of primary provider of well-financed and well-prepared responses to natural disasters;
- Affirm the belief that religious people do what they do in helping others because it is God's work and it is the right thing to do, and, therefore, the Union recommends the congregations reject government reimbursement for relief work; and
- Urge our member congregations and individual congregants to contribute to the Support Our Synagogues in New Orleans (SOS New Orleans) fund to help the New Orleans congregations during this unprecedented time of need and daunting transition.