Mark Schleifstein

b. November 25, 1950

Mark Schleifstein, born in 1950 in South Carolina, received a Pulitzer Prize for his environmental science reporting in the years leading up to hurricane Katrina. He has co-written a book called Path of Destruction. Schleifstein was born in South Carolina but moved around the south frequently in his childhood. He settled in New Orleans in 1984 to start working as an environment reporter at the Times-Picayune. Mark joined the Jewish community, volunteering his time at Shir Chadash, the Conservative synagogue. He was also active within professional circles, including serving on the boards of several journalistic organizations. He and his wife have two children, Michael and Rachel. 

Scope and Content Note

While Mark's parents weren’t religious, he was connected to Judaism and went on to be active in USY (United Synagogue Youth) and Hillel. While he was aware of antisemitism and pressures to assimilate, he found it easy to be openly Jewish in New Orleans. From the start of his career at the Times-Picayune, he argued for aggressive coverage of the city's hurricane preparedness. In 2002, he wrote a series entitled Washing Away, which described the risk of flooding. He didn’t suspect the levees would break. After the storm, he wrote a book called Path of Destruction, looking at the building of the levees and canals, the history of past hurricanes, and the city's construction. Mark provided an overview of the storm and the flooding from a scientific perspective. Mark planned on evacuating but stayed as long as he could to report on the flooding, including giving radio and TV interviews. He also convinced others to leave and told Shir Chadash to move the Torah scrolls. Mark knew flooding had destroyed his house from images of the damage, and soon after, everyone evacuated from the newspaper. Paper delivery trucks transported people, taking him to Houma with editors and reporters. They could work and publish online, but faced difficulties in communication as the cell towers were gone. They moved several times during the following weeks, returning to New Orleans in October. Mark's brother was in a severe car accident during this time, which added an extra layer of stress. Reflecting on life now, he was disappointed by the government’s response following the flooding, though he thought Nagin’s evacuation had followed protocol. Mark struggled to combine his belief in science with his faith in God. While he noted that the Jewish community was smaller following Katrina, he mentioned his pride in attending Yom Kippur services at Shir Chadash. The community joined together to do what was needed.

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Mark Schleifstein. Interviewed by Rosalind Hinton. 10 December 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 20, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/schliefstein-mark>.

Oral History of Mark Schleifstein 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.