Deena Gerber and Roselle Ungar: Where are they now?
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?
Deena still serves as the Executive Director of the Jewish Family Service of New Orleans. The biggest difference in her life since Katrina, she reports, is that she has fewer family members in the New Orleans area. “My family has really dispersed,” she said. Her neighborhood, however, is almost back to normal. There are still some abandoned houses, but the FEMA trailers are gone. And over the past year, there is a new context to view these changes in: “With the downturn in the economy, you see neighborhoods all over with abandoned houses on television,” Deena reflects. “I think, is New Orleans any different than other places? It’s just the cause that is different.”
As for the Jewish Family service, “The work has really changed. We’re doing more case management than we had ever done before. We continue to be more full for our counseling and psychotherapy… but we still don’t have the quantity of psychiatric services we had pre-Katrina at all.”
Roselle experienced a career shift in the last two years. She no longer works for the Jewish Federation of New Orleans, where she was Assistant Executive Director during Katrina and Interim Executive Director after Katrina. She currently works as a “consultant on loan” for various philanthropies. The biggest change in Roselle’s life since Katrina, she reports, is that she is much more involved with her synagogue, the Modern Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel, where she serves as their volunteer Capital Campaign Chair. She also serves on the boards of the Jewish Family Service and Hadassah.
From this vantage point, Roselle has her finger on the pulse of philanthropy in the greater New Orleans area. She sees the return to regular giving patterns as a signal of the Jewish community’s recovery. “As far as giving is concerned,” she said, “people are expected to give, they are asked to give, and they are giving based on what their individual capacity to give is… The Federation has been running a normal campaign for a couple years, all the congregations are asking for dues again. We’re over-programmed again in the city, and all the organizations are having fundraisers, events and activities, just as we did before the storm. It’s a really good thing – it’s one of those signs of normalcy.”
For both Deena and Roselle, day-to-day talk of Katrina is fading away. The local chapter of Hadassah had a meeting recently to plan their major fundraiser for the fall. “It was a perfectly normal meeting, Roselle told me. “The word ‘Katrina’ never came up once.” To an extent, Katrina has been normalized. Deena says, “people have moved here since Katrina and when you talk to them you have to remember, ‘Oh yeah, they weren’t here then.’”
Four years after the storm, after the Federal relief fiasco, after the hurt, the loss, the aid money, the “voluntourism,” and the displays of compassion and community unification, Katrina is becoming memory. It is a powerful, collective memory that resides in Katrina’s Jewish Voices, in the landscape of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and in the minds and hearts of the people who lived it.