Joan Berenson was born in New Orleans in 1930. She grew up in the city and attended the Isidore Newman School and the Reform Touro Synagogue. Berenson is involved in Jewish communal organizations both nationally and locally. In 1951, she married Gerald Berenson, a physician, and medical researcher. They have four children.
Berenson describes her upbringing in New Orleans and the many generations of her family that settled there. She talks about her Jewish education and synagogue services as a child and reflects on integrating her Judaism with life in the South but explains she “became Jewish” in 1961 when she and her husband, Gerald, went on the first national UJA Young Leadership Mission. Ms. Berenson looks back on this life-changing experience and how it gave her a strong connection with Judaism. When Joan returned to New Orleans, she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, working closely with the Jewish Federation’s Greater New Orleans Section and the National Council of Jewish Women, of which she later became president. Berenson talks in detail about Hurricane Katrina and its impact on her home, family, and community. She and her husband were displaced for nine months and rented an apartment in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Joan talks about the storm recovery, the damage her house sustained, and how her Jewish community helped rebuild. She reflects on the storm and the physical, economic, and emotional challenges it presented to her family and the city of New Orleans. Finally, Joan discusses the meaning of home, her many blessings, and her hopes for the future.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Joan Berenson. Interviewed by Rosalind Hinton. 31 August 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/berenson-joan>.
Oral History of Joan Berenson by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.