Cantor Joel Colman was born in 1957 in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up attending Temple Israel, a Reform Synagogue in Detroit. He is married to Jackie Colman, a religious school teacher and administrator for Temple Sinai Religious School. They have one child. Joel moved to New Orleans in July 1999 to become the Cantor at Congregation Temple Sinai, where he was still employed at the time of this interview. He is married to Jackie Colman. Additionally, Cantor Colman serves as a chaplain with the New Orleans Fire Department and the emergency coordinator for the Amateur Radio Emergency Service for Orleans Parish, call sign NO5FD.
Rosalind Hinton interviewed Cantor Joel Colman on August 31, 2006, in New Orleans, Louisiana, as part of the Katrina’s Jewish Voices project. Rabbi Colman talks about his background, growing up in Michigan, and coming to New Orleans with his family in 1999 to become the Cantor and Education Director at Congregation Temple Sinai. Cantor Colman and his family evacuated the morning before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. They initially went to Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Mississippi, and then spent a few days in Memphis, Tennessee. Colman’s wife and son ended up staying in Novi, Michigan, with family for the school year. His son Josh started the school year at Ecole Classique in Metairie, Louisiana, and played on the football team. Josh enrolled at Walled Lake Northern High School in Michigan, so he started senior year at a whole new school. Temple Israel of West Bloomfield, Michigan, was an enormous support to Colman's family. To show his gratitude, Rabbi Colman organized a cantorial concert there with musicians from New Orleans. Colman returned to New Orleans. The storm caused major damage to his home, so he moved into a FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] trailer parked at Temple Sinai and lived there until June 2006, when he and his wife could move back into their home in uptown New Orleans. Colman describes the first High Holiday celebration after the storm.
The day before Kol Nidre, the president of his congregation, Saundra Levy, asked Cantor Colman if he would lead Kol Nidre. He organized a sermon, music, and service for Yom Kippur with only one day to prepare. Colman explains he didn't expect many people to attend; he says one hundred at most. Instead, a stream of congregants came through the door, exceeding the building capacity, so they had to move to the temple sanctuary. Over three hundred people came to the Kol Nidre service. Colman also talks about fundraising for the city of New Orleans in the wake of the storm. Temple Israel held a concern to raise money for the New Orleans Fire Department, many of whom lost their homes. He reflects on the storm, its impact on the Temple Israel community, and the greater New Orleans area. Colman also looks to the future and is hopeful for positive changes. His son works as a counselor at Camp Maas, a Jewish residential camp in Metro-Detroit, where Colman worked as a youth. Josh plans to return to New Orleans in the fall and hopes to be a firefighter in New Orleans.