Deena Gerber

b. 1946

A seasoned social worker and executive director of Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans, Deena Gerber helped residents put their lives back together in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Born in New Orleans, Deena Gerber earned a BA from Boston University and worked briefly in New York before earning her MSW from Tulane University.  She stayed in New Orleans, working for the Jewish Family Service for over thirty years, serving as executive director from 1994–2013.  Deena co-authored Caring for the Elderly: A Workbook for Caregivers in 1992 and taught at Tulane University's School of Social Work and Loyola University of New Orleans's Department of Governmental Studies.  In the wake of Katrina, she organized Jewish Family Service to help distribute funds, gift cards, and much-needed counseling to hurricane survivors.  She often asked, "What's your plan du jour?" to take the pressure off survivors struggling to find workable solutions amidst the chaos.  In December 2011, President Obama honored her with the Champion of Change Award for the Jewish Family Service's work under her leadership to aid the community after Hurricane Katrina. 

Scope and Content Note

Deena discusses her childhood in New Orleans and her involvement in Young Judea.  She grew up in New Orleans, went away to school, and worked in New York.  Deena eventually returned to New Orleans, earned her Master of Social Work from Tulane University, and married.  She explains that in New Orleans, she can be a big fish in a smaller pond.  Deena tells how her family moved to the lakefront and talks about life in Lakewood and getting involved with Jewish Family Services, where Deena now serves as executive director.  Through JFS, she has her ear to the ground on the needs of the Jewish community and the larger New Orleans community.  Deena details her Jewish life and the broader culture of New Orleans.  She remembers evacuating New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina with her family and watching the hurricane aftermath on TV in Atlanta.  Her house flooded, and she struggled to communicate with her staff.   Deena remembers connecting with the Jewish community in Atlanta and working with Jewish Family Services to provide aid and services in New Orleans.  Providing a flexible and humane workplace was paramount since everyone was dealing with trauma, insurance, FEMA, and loss.  Deena discusses some of her client load, which is much more acute than before.  She talks about ways her life has changed since Hurricane Katrina and missing her family.  Deena highlights her thoughts about working with the New Orleans Jewish community to rebuild and recover from Hurricane Katrina.  Finally, Deena reflects on how the hurricane has changed her and how grateful she is for what she has.

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Deena Gerber. Interviewed by Rosalind Hinton . 12 December 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 29, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/gerber-deena>.

Oral History of Deena Gerber 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.