Gail Chalew was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1952. She attended Vassar College and graduated with a degree in Anthropology in 1973. She then enrolled in a double master's program with the University of Maryland School of Social Work and Baltimore Hebrew University, earning master's degrees in social work and Judaic studies. She and her husband Stuart, a pediatric endocrinologist, and their four children lived in Baltimore until 1998. Stuart's work brought the family to New Orleans. Gail worked as the Editor of The Jewish News for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans before working as a freelance editor and copyeditor.
Gail explains she was born and raised in Baltimore but moved to New Orleans in 1998 for her husband's job offer. She describes adjusting to life in New Orleans, how her children's lives unfolded there, and getting involved in various Jewish and community organizations. She talks about Hurricane Katrina, the impact it had on her family and home. Gail evacuated for a year with her son in Baltimore, which was a significant adjustment for him. Her other children were in college and were away at school. She remembered watching coverage of the hurricane and was concerned for the refugees fleeing the city and the devastation to the area. Gail reflects on the generosity she felt from the Jewish community in Baltimore while in exile and upon returning to New Orleans. Since Gail grew up in Baltimore, a very different Jewish community than New Orleans, her insights are strongest around what makes the New Orleans Jewish community distinctive and interesting to her, particularly the city’s diversity. New Orleans is primarily Reform, rather than an Orthodox community like in Baltimore. Gail is very committed to rebuilding her Broadmoor Neighborhood, which was destroyed in the flooding. Rebuilding for Gail also includes Shir Chadash, her conservative community that has lost many older members and younger members with children. Finally, Gail looks back on how she, the Jewish community, and her city have changed since Katrina. She channels the uncertainty and disruption caused by the storm in her writing and work as a freelance editor.