Katrina Plus Five: Carol Wise and granddaughter Zoe Oreck weigh in
To mark the 5th anniverary of Hurricane Katrina, we got in touch with JWA Board member Carol Wise and her granddaughter Zoe Oreck, two Jewish women who experienced the storm and its aftermath first-hand. Carol Wise has served as President of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, and Chair of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce. She now serves on the Executive Committee and Board of the Hillel International Foundation and as President of Tulane Hillel. Zoe Oreck is a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in PR and History. They share their thoughts on New Orleans and the Jewish community five years after Katrina below.
How do you feel about New Orleans now?
Zoe Oreck: I’ve always felt a very deep connection to New Orleans. Being away from New Orleans while I’m at college is a struggle. It’s like missing a person! If there is a difference between how I felt about New Orleans pre-Katrina and post-Katrina it’s that I love it even more. I no longer take it for granted. It’s home.
What do you miss most about pre-Katrina?
Carol Wise: Nothing really--the food, the music, the people, the ambiance, the flavor--it is all here but a bit stronger than before Katrina. I saw a sentence in the paper the other day and it triggered the best summary of the above: "Adversity tends to make you a little stronger. There are some blessings that come out of that."
Did you imagine things would be the way they are five years after the storm?
Zoe Oreck: To be honest, I don’t really know what I thought about the future of New Orleans after the storm. All I could hope for is that someday we would rebuild and bring everyone who wanted to be back home, home. My senior year of high school (one year after the storm), I would drive through some of the most devastated areas of the city to get to tennis practice. As the weeks and months of the spring of 2007 went by, I could see firsthand the progress that was made everyday! I remember being a tad late one day and driving along the street I always did and noticing a Walgreens that not only wasn’t open the week before, it wasn’t even finished the week before! That moment gave me pause to really stop and think about how beautiful that one drugstore, out of every drugstore in America, really was to me. Every building, every roof, every doorknob that moves us along the road to complete recovery is a blessing.
Are thing in NOLA better or worse than you would have imagined they would be in 5 years?
Carol Wise: My first response was mixed. I am sad that we lost about 25% of the Jewish population. At first, I was angry, but I do now understand. I now rejoice that we have actively pursued getting new people to come here and over 2,000 new New Orleans Jews are living here. They form a vibrant and significant part of our population--2,000 out of 6,500 is rather hefty growth. (Including my daughter and my 3 grandsons). The new Provost at Tulane, the new Dean of Tulane Law School, the new head of Hillel, new rabbis at 3 of our 5 synagogues -- they have each come and brought their families. I consider those numbers and positions filled amazing. Could any other medium sized Jewish community have done the same proportionately? I would like to think "NO"-- but Jews do have a resiliency.
How do you feel about NOLA's Jewish community now? Do you think it "has a future"?
Zoe Oreck: I absolutely think that the NOLA Jewish community has a future. Our community, like so many other things about New Orleans, is unique. There’s a very tangible sense of unity among the Jews and an equally close sense of connectedness to New Orleans. I mean, the hours of my Sunday School were changed to better accommodate Saints games. The Jews of New Orleans could not be the Jews of any other city. We also have very close ties to our temples and congregations. Many New Orleanian Jews have families that have been in the same congregations for 50 years plus. It’s a very special thing.
What are the most notable changes in the city? In the Jewish Community?
Carol Wise: In the city we have learned to cherish all our accomplishments--from the excitement of winning the Super Bowl to each musician, artist, tourist, piece of seafood to the fishermen who were impacted by the oil spill. There is a feeling that we need to be heard, that we have the capacity amongst ourselves to fight back. Each and every person here has that divine spark. It is infectious--you have been here so you know what it is like to "miss New Orleans." There is a very special atmosphere here unlike any other city I have every known, and it has grown enormously over the last 5 years. I think that same spark holds true in the Jewish community as well as the larger community. We have NEVER had one section of the city that is primarily Jewish--we are a Gumbo--each of the parts makes us better.