Themes

Although their experiences and viewpoints were many and varied, the Jewish women who survived Katrina kept returning to certain themes in their stories of the storm and the recovery efforts—the difficulty of asking for help, the importance of community and family, and the impossibility of conveying this modern experience of exile to anyone who had not endured it for themselves.

Jewish Community

What does it mean to rebuild the Jewish community in New Orleans? Voices from throughout the community discuss the painful schisms and hurdles they’ve had to overcome, along with some surprising discoveries as they built bridges and forged new traditions.

Larger Community

New Orleans has always been celebrated for its unique flavor, from the graceful architecture of the French Quarter to the skill of its jazz musicians. But with so many forced to relocate (and so many new arrivals coming to help rebuild), it became clear early on that the city’s character would undergo a massive transformation. Did the efforts to fix the damaged city make it even better than it was before? Or was something essential lost?

Leadership

Both during the immediate crisis and in the months of rebuilding that came after, Jewish women of all ages took on leadership roles to help their communities, from a retiree overseeing aid efforts to a new synagogue president determined to empower others in her community. Our narrators reveal what made them take on sometimes staggering responsibilities, and the ways they found to keep their sanity—and their senses of humor—despite their demanding roles.

Family

For many, Hurricane Katrina meant separation, as families were forced to relocate. But for some, surprisingly, the storm brought them closer to those they loved. From a new mother frantically trying to reach the nurses at her hospital to a divorced couple’s insistence on keeping their Monday night dinner ritual despite the chaos of evacuation, these stories reveal the emotional power of family in moments of crisis.

Giving & Receiving

Tzedakah is a fundamental Jewish value—we are taught not only to be generous, but to avoid shaming those who are in need. But what happens when circumstances force us to ask for help? While on the receiving end—often for months at a time—some women grappled with feelings of exhaustion, frustration, and embarrassment, while others were surprised to discover that the experience of asking for help made them better at offering help to others.

In Exile

While most people experience loss or upheaval at some point in their lives, they rarely do so on such a massive scale, with a whole community driven from their homes and scattered to the winds. Many survivors of the storm struggled to find ways to explain this modern-day exile to outsiders, trying to find words for the unimaginable.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Themes." (Viewed on November 14, 2019) <https://jwa.org/communitystories/katrina/themes>.

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