May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Reflections on Hurricane Katrina

This past August marked the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. The most significant number of deaths occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina over 50 percent of the population of New Orleans was displaced. To date, the city population has still not returned to its pre-Katrina numbers.

Over the past 10 years, New Jersey NCSY has led over a dozen missions to the city of New Orleans, taking over 300 teens to help rebuild the city and strengthen its people in so many ways. Our participants have hailed from over a dozen public schools across the state of New Jersey, as well as from several yeshivot in North Jersey including Kushner, Ma’ayanot, TABC and Frisch. Our participation has included both the physical and spiritual realms. Our students have helped to lay down foundations for new homes, put up walls and lay down floor boards. We have also planted hundreds of trees. In an effort to educate the population on how to live more economically efficient lives, we have switched thousands of light bulbs to energy-saving ones.

Our students have created and implemented incredible programs in the local Jewish day school and the senior citizen homes. They have filled a void with parsha programs, unity events, Israel-related activities and so much more. Over 100 divrei Torah have been given in the local shul by our NCSYers. We reviewed over 1,000 yahrtzeit plaques and entered them into the shul database. Because of the students of New Jersey NCSY, those who have perished over the years are now remembered.

What have we gained from our mission trips? On my first trip to New Orleans, we walked through the original building of Congregation Beth Israel. At the time, we had to wear masks because of the stench. The shul had been submerged in water for two weeks. The seven Sifrei Torah and over 3,000 seforim were submerged as well. Some pictures of past shul presidents were on the walls with many more of them smashed on the floor. Random items from the gift shop and other memorabilia of a shul that once was littered the floor. The synagogue was so badly damaged that the community had to raise funds to rebuild in a new location. The last time I was in the shul before it was relocated, I was with students from the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. Knowing this would be the last time anyone would pray in that shul became the impetus for a most beautiful davening experience.

We went to the cemetery and saw where the seven Sifrei Torah and over 3,000 seforim were buried. We learned about the incredible Jewish community in New Orleans from its diverse group of great rabbis and community leaders. Most importantly we learned what it means to be part of a Jewish community. The importance of strong community relations was apparent as we heard the clear message of rebuilding and restoring.

Over the past 10 years we contributed a tremendous amount of time and effort to the city of New Orleans—but there is no question that we gained so much more. New Jersey NCSY continues to be the leader in informal experiential education with cutting-edge programs. We attract the best students who in turn demand the best from us. We at New Jersey NCSY are here to train and educate the future leaders of the Jewish community. We hope you will partner with us to help us continue to attain our goals.

Rabbi Ethan Katz is Regional Director, New Jersey NCSY.

By Rabbi Ethan Katz

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