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The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
October 2005 > Katrina

Securing New Orleans Jewish Institutions

Eric Stillman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, posted a report on the federation’s listserve Monday, Sept. 12, detailing an inspection of New Orleans Jewish communal facilities and an effort to salvage Torahs, Judaica, important documents and computers. Here is an edited version:

The journey started on Friday, Sept. 9, but the details and coordination of the plan were days in the making to ensure the safety of the Torahs of the community, as well as to inspect the buildings and retrieve Judaica, key documents, and computers with vital information for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, our agencies, and community synagogues.

By Friday afternoon, the gear was bought, vaccinations were administered, and a van rented for the trip to Baton Rouge that would include me; Adam Bronstone, director of the federation’s community relations committee; and Mark Rubenstein, executive director of Touro Synagogue. Meeting us in Baton Rouge was Keith Ross, the federation’s director of building services, to assist in the site inspection of the Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus, which houses the Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Center — Metairie, the New Orleans Jewish Day School, and the federation office.

By 7 a.m. Saturday, we met with the rest of the convoy, led by the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge’s President, Erich Sternberg, Baton Rouge Jewish community volunteer Richard Lipsey, and East Baton Rouge Sheriff Greg Phares, who determined the date for this operation based on security considerations. We are tremendously indebted to Sheriff Phares and his deputies for enabling us to undertake this vital mission.

With the East Baton Rouge Sheriff and deputies as our security detail, a team of 15 community volunteers, rabbis, and federation professionals sped to New Orleans in less than an hour.

The route allowed us to assess the physical condition of Temple Sinai, Touro Synagogue, Hillel, Shir Chadash, and the Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus. Previously, the Jewish Community Center on St. Charles Avenue Uptown, Gates of Prayer, and the Chabad Houses were inspected by other authorized groups. Unfortunately, only Congregation Beth Israel in Lakeview remained mostly under water and was inaccessible.

We were able to bring out Torahs from Temple Sinai and Touro Synagogue, as well as Torahs from Shir Chadash and the New Orleans Jewish Day School, which had been moved to the third floor of the Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus before Hurricane Katrina. We brought most of the Torahs with us to Baton Rouge, where they will be secured temporarily. Torahs belonging to Gates of Prayer were moved to a higher and safer location in a private office before the hurricane struck, and Chabad had organized the recovery of Torahs from the Chabad Houses after the storm.

Most of the institutions, given their location in the Uptown area, were spared flood or structural damage. The same cannot be said of the Metairie locations we visited. Shir Chadash Conservative Synagogue, Congregation Gates of Prayer (already inspected) and the Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus all have some outer structural damage and first-floor flooding. Repairs and renovation will take time, but these institutions can be made whole again. We were unable to assess the condition of Beth Israel.

We are grateful to the Baton Rouge Jewish community and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department for making this mission possible, and we will provide you with further updates as they become available concerning the repair and renovation of our community facilities.

For updated lists of where New Orleans Jews have relocated, information about FEMA, local insurance information, and a link to listings for Jewish day schools offering free tuition to Hurricane Katrina victims, visit the New Orleans federation Web site.

Eric also provided a more detailed damage assessment of New Orleans Jewish institutions, though a final report would likely include data from inspections by engineers and other experts.

New Orleans federation building: There is water damage on the first floor of the building which will require the replacement of all flooring on that level — gymnasium; carpeting, tiling. There is mold and other bacterial growth on the walls that will require removal or replacement of sheetrock and all wall coverings. Furniture may have to be replaced due to contamination. The kitchen may also need to be replaced given water toxicity. The electrical system may need to be replaced.

The exterior of the building sustained some damage — roofing, air conditioning system, fencing and canopies. All will either need to be replaced or repaired.

JCC: The main branch near the Tulane University campus appears dry and in good condition.

Synagogues: Temple Sinai and Touro Synagogue were dry and in good condition. Gates of Prayer synagogue had some water damage. Congregation Shir Chadash was damaged by flooding and its flooring and walls may need to be replaced. Beth Israel synagogue was destroyed by flooding.

Day Schools: New Orleans Jewish Day School (on the JCC campus) has wet flooring on the main level, forcing closure for the semester and possibly the entire school year. The Chabad Torah Academy is in good condition.

Nursing Home: Woldenberg Village, the only Jewish nursing home, is mostly dry.