Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Mind-Boggling Flood Images, and some Deep Thoughts

Nothing new to report in terms of my own goings-on, but I'm so awestruck by the NY Times coverage of the damage in the Gulf Coast, I just had to put some reaction on my blog. Especially the pictures from New Orleans, after the 2 levees were breached. Homes and businesses almost or even completely submerged . . . . those aerial photos showing the city looking eerily like a bowl of cereal into which someone poured just a little too much milk . . . it's just horrible and awe-inspiring . . . the woman whose husband died because he has lung cancer and he ran out of oxygen . . . the idea of the 10,000 people who sought refuge in the superdome having to evacuate. Where will all these people go?

For those who missed it, my friend Shoshana left the following comment on my blog yesterday. Although I definitely feel sorry for everyone in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast, any problem feels more immediate when it's brought home that it's affecting people who are just like you (in my case, affiliated Jews) even beyond basic humanity:

A few personal thoughts for those who might still be viewing this from a distance:

New Orleans has supported a strong Jewish community since at least the early 1800's. My family arrived in the city around 1840, and there was already a Jewish infrastructure there. Despite or perhaps because New Orleans is ethnically and religiously different from most of the rest of the South (and not remotely Puritan in any sense of the word), Jews did very well there. The Orthodox community is currently small. Together with the Conservative and Reform, though, they've kept several synagogues, a kosher butcher and three kosher restaurants (including one in the French Quarter) running for years now. Tulane University has had a strong and active Hillel since the 1960's (started in part by my grandfather).

To give this a bit more reality for you...That kosher butcher and many of the Jewish families who support it are located near Lake Pontchatrain - which the news reports say has broken through the levees. Thank G-d, my uncle and aunt evacuated successfully - but they did not have time to remove the family photos, the heirlooms, the pieces of furniture and other items that have been in our family for generations. Their home is now under water. We pray there will be something left to salvage. We don't have our hopes up.

Another point: For those who do not know, New Orleans is below sea level. Because the city regularly experiences low levels of flooding, the cemeteries are built up. Rather than digging down into the ground, people build mounds and then bury within the mound. This prevents the graves from being disturbed by the flooding. That's for flooding of a few inches. The city is currently under several FEET of water. As I said earlier, the Jewish community there goes back at least to the early 1800's. Five generations of my family are buried there. Please daven that the kevarot will still be there when the waters recede, and daven that disease will not ravage the area in the aftermath.

And one more comment on the topic of divine punishment...Throughout the city's history, hurricanes have threatened to destroy New Orleans. Somehow, though, they always veer slightly away at the last minute. For years I have wondered in whose merit my beloved city is regularly spared. This time I wondered if that merit had run out. This morning, listening to the news, I learned that G-d still shows mercy on New Orleans. Yesterday morning, the hurricane was a category 5, with the eye aiming for New Orleans dead on. If it veered maybe 10 km to the east, it would hit Lake Pontchatrain and the winds would empty the lake onto the city. We were looking at complete distruction. COMPLETE. But once again, at the last minute, the storm lessened slightly in strength, and veered 30 km to the east - thereby avoiding a direct hit on both New Orleans AND Lake Pontchatrain. So - regardless of one's thoughts about this hurricane being punishment for the U.S.'s Middle East policies, one must remain in awe of the merit that continues to shield the city of New Orleans from the worst of G-d's wrath. And one's heart must continue to break for Mississippi and Alabama.

Please keep us in your prayers.
Pontchatrain but also along several streets leading from the lake into city neighborhoods? (And for those who are wondering, I had to look up "levee" in the dictionary myself. A levee is "an embankment built alongside a river to prevent high water from flooding bordering land.")

b) The American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee has a natural-disaster relief program, but according to their website, they offer humanitarian aid only to non-Jews who live outside of America. Are their any American Jewish organizations that provide internal, American, disaster relief?

c) Speaking of Jewish aid, I'm concerned about the idea that, with food shortages imminent in New Orleans, there may be people stuck there who would prefer kosher food but won't have access to any. Of course, if it's a choice between eating non-kosher food or starving, Jewish law dictates that one eat. But I wish I knew whether there was anyone in that category, and if so is there is a way to a) offer them housing outside the city with another kosher-observant family or at least b) get kosher food to them wherever they are.

d) Someone has been getting to my site by googling various versions of "what happened to prison inmates in New Orleans?" Well now, that is indeed a good question. When, where, and how were prison inmates evacuated? Were they? Or were they left to drown?

That's all for now. Please share answers and/or ways to help in the comments section. May Hashem protect all the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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