A third-generation New Orleans native and the first female president of Congregation Beth Israel, Jackie Gothard was deeply enmeshed in the Jewish community. When the storm hit, Gothard briefly relocated to Dallas, where she returned to her roots as a social worker, doing intake for the Jewish Family Service, then returned to New Orleans, where she was heartbroken to discover that her Orthodox synagogue's building was badly damaged, and its seven Torah scrolls were beyond repair. She worked tirelessly to restore the synagogue, find aid to support their rebuilding efforts, and reunite the scattered community.
Jackie recalls growing up as an orthodox Jew in New Orleans in the 1930s and 1940s, and the rich tapestry of people, the foodways, and the many cultures that makeup New Orleans. She lived over her parents' deli, Pressners, in a mixed neighborhood made up of Jews, Italian Catholics, and Protestant African Americans. Growing up, Jackie attended public schools in the segregated South and then took the Hebrew bus for daily classes at Beth Israel, where she would eventually become the female president in its 104-year history. During Hurricane Katrina, the Beth Israel synagogue was destroyed, and Jackie's membership scattered. Their rabbi did not return. Seven Torah scrolls were destroyed and had to be buried. She describes her determination to restore the synagogue and reassemble its congregation. Jackie reflects on gender and Southern politics in an Orthodox community. She tells the story of the first Yom Kippur Service at Beth Israel after the storm and having to rely on the generosity of her good friends, the Patels, Hindus from India. The Patels moved their employees out of a conference room they were sleeping in so that Beth Israel could set up for the High Holiday service. The rabbis brought their own food since Kosher meal preparation was an impossibility. Jackie's determination and ability to garner diverse communities' energies would bring forth many such events this first year after Katrina.