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.
In late August of 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, I was lying in a hospital bed in Boston getting nasty medicine through an IV line and receiving all nourishment through another tube. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I turned on the generally useless TV and saw what was – and was not – happening in New Orleans. The images of desperate people on rooftops, the misery at the Superdome, water flooding into Charity Hospital made me wonder if my illness and the treatment I was receiving for it were causing me to have delusions.
Four years ago today, the world was transfixed as images of Hurricane Katrina roared across our television screens and the horrifying stories of people stranded and lost flooded our inboxes, websites, and, it seemed, every news outlet in the country. Certainly at the Jewish Women’s Archive, we were transfixed. Our beloved board member, Carol Wise, and her family had fled the storm along with tens of thousands of other New Orleanians and were holed up in a hotel in Dallas. Her messages to us in those early days were full of relief, gratitude for the loving hands being extended to them from across the country, worry and concern about their homes and their neighborhoods, and anxiety for those left behind.
Deena Gerber and Roselle Ungar, two leaders of the New Orleans Jewish community who played instrumental roles in the relief and rebuild efforts during and after Hurricane Katrina, helped to coordinate rescues, distribute aid money, and help displaced members of the community find each other. Four years later, where are they now?
Media coverage of Hurricane Katrina focused on the poorest communities of New Orleans and initiated a national discussion about poverty, power, and racism. The JWA's Katrina’s Jewish Voices project is interesting in that it focuses on the experience of a different, relatively affluent, community. It would be misleading to ignore the fact that the Jewish community of greater New Orleans was relatively privileged in terms of status, education, wealth, and other financial resources like insurance. In a recent article in the Jerusalem Report, Jayne Guberman, project director of Katrina's Jewish Voices, said, “Privileged individuals and families, too, had to cope with loss, displacement and at least temporary homelessness. These interviews show that even privileged lives are fragile, and they point to the impact of the loss of our most essential connections.”
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and the organized American Jewish community rallied. The National Disaster Committee of the United Jewish Communities quickly raised and distributed $28 million in aid for Jewish and non-Jewish communities, about $16 million of which went to the local Jewish institutions serving the greater New Orleans area.
Saturday August 29, 2009, marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and it is time to take stock. The Jerusalem Report’s August issue does just that, featuring Arieh O’Sullivan’s article “Rebuilding Jewish Life in the Big Easy,” and Eetta Prince-Gibson’s article “Katrina’s Jewish Story,” in which she discusses Katrina’s Jewish Voices, a project of the Jewish Women's Archive in collaboration with the Center for History and New Media. To view the Jerusalem Report articles, click here.