JWA launches Katrina’s Jewish Voices, one of the first online collecting projects
Responding to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in August and September of 2005, staff members of the Jewish Women’s Archive dropped their plans for the coming year to turn to documenting this catastrophic event. Katrina was one of the costliest natural disasters of the 20th century, killing at least 1,833 people and causing $81 billion worth of property damage.
Using the rudimentary digital technology available at the time, JWA launched Katrina’s Jewish Voices, an online project that encouraged members of the Jewish communities of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and Jews across the country to tell their personal stories about the storm.
Following JWA’s mission to uncover, chronicle, and transmit the history of American Jewish women, one part of the project was assembling 80 in-depth oral histories with Jewish men and women living in and around New Orleans. They related painful and uplifting stories of danger, escape, refuge, and survival. The audio recordings and written transcripts of their interviews are available online and preserved by JWA’s partner, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL).
In addition, Katrina’s Jewish Voices solicited contributions of photos, blog postings, podcasts, phone messages, emails, essays, and other first-hand accounts from Jews around the country. The technology for scanning documents and uploading them to a website was still in its infancy—no smart phones, no Instagram—so JWA staff spent many hours guiding individuals through the process. In collaboration with the Center for History and New Media, JWA created an exhibit that was one of the earliest efforts to use the Internet to document history as it happens.