An Update on Jewish Gulf Coast Communities

The following update on Gulf Coast Jewish communities was taken wholesale from a Los Angeles Jewish Federation email. (The letter was unsigned so my apologies for not identifying its exact source.) It’s an interesting and specific peek into what’s going on:
New Orleans
People from the city of New Orleans are going to have a difficult time getting their life back together because their houses were completely flooded (and are still flooded a week later), and will require much long-term help from the government and other agencies with temp housing, jobs, etc. Many of them may go from third generation welfare recipients to permanent refugees.
The Jewish community, however, I think will rebound but will be a little smaller (and a little older). I say this because Uptown and Metairie, which combined entail about 75% of the Jewish population and also almost all of the Jewish institutions, only received a few feet of flooding. Thus, total rebuilding of houses and institutions is probably not necessary.
Many of those few who are not rooted in New Orleans, however, I think will decide not to come back because they could be a doctor, etc. anywhere and might be fed up with all the hurricanes and would not want to go through something of this magnitude again.
Individuals and organizations that are serving the Jewish community and general community with one goal in mind: to restore the dignity and stability that was erased by Hurricane Katrina.
* Malcolm Slatko and Don Morris, the executives of Seven Acres and the New Orleans Jewish nursing home, who facilitated and led the evacuation of 150 elderly from New Orleans and safely brought them to Houston. These elderly individuals were triaged at The Methodist Hospital then taken to nursing homes around the city. The 80 Jewish residents will be welcomed one by one into Seven Acres as space becomes available.
* Mandy Selber, Joel Loshak and Dee Dee Dochen, Jewish community volunteers who helped rescue Nettie Thompson and her family of seven from the Astrodome. The Thompson family is now living in a house in the Heights. And, last night, Mandy and Joel returned to the Astrodome to locate an elderly Jewish woman who was among the last to be evacuated from New Orleans. She was not at the Astrodome but we found her living in a shelter in Amarillo, Texas; today or tomorrow, we will fly her to Houston so that she can be closer to her New Orleans Jewish community.
* The National Council of Jewish Women who alerted us to the Thompson Family and who have already assisted the Thompson family as they plan for the future. Nettie Thompson worked for NCJW in New Orleans.
* The Jewish day schools of Houston, which yesterday enrolled 68 New Orleans Jewish children so that they could continue their education even while living temporarily in Houston.
* Sara Selber, who is arranging to receive a UPS planeload of donated goods from the San Diego Jewish Academy. The UPS plane will be coming to Houston next week.
* JCC staff who have been welcoming New Orleans families in to the JCC and who have worked tirelessly in these hot August and September days accepting donations of clothes and food for distribution to various shelters around the city.
* Congregations Beth Yeshurun, Emanu El and Beth Israel who have welcomed New Orleans Jews to Shabbat dinners and family activities.
* Gary Swartz who is using his dogged determination to retrieve the bodies of two elderly Jews from New Orleans who died just prior to the aforementioned evacuation of the Jewish nursing home there.
* The staff of Jewish Family Service that is now mobilizing for the potential long term needs of our new guests.
* meals, providing healthcare services at the Astrodome, etc.
Jackson, Mississippi
Rabbi Valerie Cohen of Beth Israel Congregation, the only synagogue in Jackson, Miss, reports the population of Jackson has at least doubled, from 350,000 to over 700,000. Cohen said, “Gasoline is impossible to get, the grocery stores are depleted, real estate is disappearing. Our schools, public and private, are in crisis in attempts to meet the increased needs of the thousands of children who have sought shelter here.”
Currently, Cohen knows of 78 displaced Jews that are in the Jackson area, and feels there are many more. “These people have lost everything. Some only have two or three sets of clothing. They believed they could return to their homes in two or three days. Some were away from home when the hurricane hit and never even had a chance to gather their possessions or important documents from their homes.”
Birmingham, Alabama
* A call was received from a Jewish Family Services staffer in another part of the country on behalf of an adult child seeking our help in evacuating sick, elderly parents who have been moved from New Orleans to insufficient conditions in Baton Rouge. They can’t get out of Baton Rouge without a handicapped accessible van with a wheelchair lift. Efforts are being made to help with that situation as well.
* A doctor from our Jewish community has asked the Federation to help with another challenge. There are doctors from New Orleans, Jewish and non-Jewish, willing to consider moving their practices to Birmingham, but Alabama has no reciprocity with Louisiana when it comes to licensing. To change that, our state government must act quickly and we’ve been asked to intervene.
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