Chabad Hurricane Relief
Thursday, September 29, 2005
My Trip to New Orleans - 9/29 9:14 PM
I have not posted for a week, because I spent the last three days in New Orleans. It was an incredible experience.
I arrived in at the New Orleans Airport on Monday, at around 9 AM.
The airport has a quiet feel to it, almost like everyone there is at a funeral. I walked outside, and caught a cab to New Orleans. I asked the driver if he good get us into the city today, and he said "Maybe, we might get lucky."
As we pulled out the airport, I started to get a good look at some o
f the damage from the storm. Around the airport, you see only the wind damage, and it is substantial. Many roofs have pieces missing, a lot of aluminum roofs are ripped off completely, and there is a gas station with the entire fill up stand fallen on a side. As we drove nearer to Metairie, I saw some stores open, and I went into Walgreens, to buy some supplies for cleaning out the fridge and freezer.
The thing about the Hurricane is that it pervades everything. Even the items that Walgreens displays are hurricane related - lysol, gloves, protective masks, bleach, etc.
We tried to get into New Orleans through Earhart Expressway, but it was closed, so we went down Jefferson Highway. As we passed Ochsner hospital, a line of cars was in the street, waiting to enter New Orleans.
We waited for about 20 minutes on line, and we finally got to the checkpoint. There were four National Guardsmen, waiting at a checkpoint, in the sun. I showed my ID, and the cab went through.
As we crossed into New Orleans, from Metairie, things changed. In Metairie, all the streets are clean, in New Orleans, all the side streets have tree limbs and power lines down, and even the large streets, like Claiborne, have trees lying in the middle of the road.
We pulled up to my house, and I paid the taxi, and walked up to the house. (My house is a raised house, about three feet above grade. However, when I bought the house, I enclosed the garage, and turned it into a sitting room, where I keep my bookcase, couches, and computer. It is accessible down a short stairway, from my front room. The garage is on the level of the outside. I had heard that the level of flooding on my block was low, and I was hopeful that my house had not been flooded.) I opened the door, and was greeted by a very musty smell. I looked to my right and saw a devastating sight. The floor had been flooded, to a level of about 14 inches. The couch, the desk, the recliner, were all covered with mold. For some reason, the books were all lying the middle of the floor, having fallen out of the bookshlef. It was bizzare. I could not understand what happened. Had someone broken in, and knocked the books out? I walked down the stairs, in the choking smell of mold and mildew, and looked and the computer covered with a brown film. The brown film covered everything, and sheets of it extended from furniture piece to furniture piece. As I looked at the bookcase, I realized that, somehow, the floodwater had broken the bookcase, causing all of the exterior shelves to fall out. I looked down and saw my copy of the Book of Shmuel, glued to the side of the computer desk, about 12 feet fromthe bookshelf. Apparently, it fell into the water and floated across the room, where it stayed when the water dried.
The smell of mold was very strong. I walked over to a large pile of fallen books and picked one up. It was called Galuth Melodies, and it is a collection of stories, that my son just started reading. I lost it at that point.
I went into the utility room, which was also flooded. The smell of mildew mixed with the smell of the rotting freezer, and the buzzing of the flies that filled the entire house. I started picking up flooded items from the floor, and a frog leaped out and hopped behind the washing machine.
At this point, I felt cmopletely overwhelmed. I walked outside, and called Sarah, to tell her of the situation. The cellphone service was very spotty, we could not really hear eah other. I walked back inside, and picked up the phone in the kitchen. There was a dial tone!
We had a conversation, in which I described the situation. I told her that I needed stay for a couple days and clean up.
I then went back outside, and got on my bike, and rode toward Tulane. On the way, I called a developer who was helping me with the plans for the New Student Center. He told me that he had a crew that was doing demo and mold remediation in Metairie, and, if they would let him in, he could come to my house tomorrow and do the job there as well. I went to my parents' house and picked up a car that was there.
I spent the rest of the day going to different houses of people in our community, some had bad flooding, others, minor damage.
I then went back to my house and started cleaning up. It was a slow process, and the heat was brutal - there was no AC. Occasionally, I would get back into my car and drive around, just to cool off.
At about 5:30, I was ready to give up. I drove down the block and found one other person, two streets away. He had been in the city for over two weeks, and we talked about cleaning up, water, mold, looting, and other lovely New Orleans topics.
I spent the next day and a half cleaning up the house, removing books and preparing them for burial, and talking to people who were just as devastated as i was. That is the most amazing thing about the area right now. It is as if everyone is attending the same funeral. Everyone has a disaster story. One person lost his entire house, under water to the rafters. Another had business assets destroyed in the flood, with no insurance. I watched a video that someone took of Chalmette, and the images were staggering. An RV with its front two wheels on the rood on someone's house. A chair that floated up to the ceiling and is stuck in the rafters. An entire house caked with mud.
On Wednesday, the day I left, my neighbor, Uzi Kehaty, came back to look at his house. Thank G-d, he had no flooding, but a little wind damage. The night before, Adam and Michele Stross came back, and are staying in their house. They came over to my house on Wednesday, and were staggered by the sight of eight pails filled with ruined Jewish books.
The overwhelming feeling that you get is the sense of chaos in the city. Our cities require a tremendous amount of order. When a city is empty for four weeks, and experiences what New Orleans experience, that order is lost. Asher Barah Elokim La'asos - The Midrash comments "G-d created the world, to be fixed." The world is a place of chaos, and humans impose order on that chaos. When that imposition stops, the chaos comes back. There is a strong metaphor here, somewhere.
The other feeling that hits is when I got back on the plane to New York.
We stopped in Memphis. The plane from New Orleans to Memphis was still the funeral. Everyone was either a New Orleans resident, or a rescue and relief worker. Suddenly, in Memphis, the world went back to normal. Hurricane Katrina was no longer the number one thing on everyone's mind.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
President Bush Thanks Chabad 9/21/1:45 PM
In a speech today to the Rebuplican Jewish Coalition, President Bush cited Chabad's work in the Katrina affected region as an example of America's armies of compassion coming to the aid of those in need.Here is the link
It is about 7 minutes into the video.
Although, he mentioned me, by name, the credit really goes to all of the people on the Chabad team that worked together over the last several weeks to help so many people in the region. You guys did a great job.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Houston Chabad 9/20 3:45 PM
Chabad in Houston
has really confronted the challenge of dealing with thousands of Jewish evacuees, among the hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians that have evacuated to the area.
One of the things that they managed to organize is providing apartments for several families that were displaced by the storm. But, in typical Chabad fashion, they went the extra mile, providing food, furniture and love to the families.
Here is an email received by Rabbi Lazaroff from one of those families:
I am overwhelmed by the care, kindness and love that has been shown by all of you here in Houston to the New Orleans families.
[My husband] and I moved into our apartment last night. It was like a treasure hunt. As I opened cabinets and drawers and closets,all kinds of thoughtful surprises awaited us. The comfortable,brand new beds felt just like home. Linens, towels, pillows, blankets were available as needed. Toiletries, basic foods for meal preparation allowed us to sit in our completely Kosher kitchen and have a simple meal together. There is an entire side room filled with food and supplies as more families arrive.
"Many waters cannot extinguish the love..." Many waters cannot wash away the Ahavas Yisroel that Jews have shown to their brothers and sisters. This experience has inspired me to be more conscious of making Ahavas Yisroel the compass that guides every decision.
Wishing all of you a sweet,good year and may Hashem bless y'all that you should always be able to give, not to receive.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Mendel's Diary Friday, Spetember 16 3:30 PM
It has been an unbelievable week. The power of the Chabad network and its ability to help people is amazing. Last week Rabbi Rivkin (my fahter) and I went to Baton Rouge where we met with the energetic group of search and rescue teams and the two Yeshiva students that were coordinating with them between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Mendel Druk and Levi Shmotkin. We also had the opportunity to receive the Torahs that were resuced by the group from the two Chabad Centers in New Orleans. In a very emotional moment James, one of the rescue team leaders who is not Jewish, presented us with the Torahs. We all spontaneously began dancing as if it was Simchat Torah. That same night we drove to Hammond to meet with Alan Krilov and spent some time with him and brought him some Kosher MREs that were being distributed in shelters. As mentioned the search and rescue teams saved dozens of lives, Thank G-d. We also met with Morris Kahn, our own Torah Academy School Board president who happily reported that he had seen the facility had assessed the damage. He is planning the rebuilding of the Torah Academy Day School, which will allow us to continue to provide Jewish education in New Orleans. Upon returning to Houston with the Torahs, the entire Chabad community of Houston was outside with music to greet the New Orleans Torahs. The Houston Torahs were removed from the Ark to greet their New Orleans counterparts. We then danced in a Simchat Torah fashion for a while at the Chabad Center in Houston, where the Torahs will reside until they can be taken home to Chabad in New Orleans. On the Houston front, Chabad here continues to do an unbelievable job in taking care of the New Orleans Jews. Apartments have set up and furnished. Clothing pick up and gift card distribution has been organized under the leadership of Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff and Danny Gavin. We are meeting more and more New Orleans Jews who are happy to be alive but need help in getting their lives together. We are thankful that the generosity of the many contributors is allowing us to help so many people in so many ways. Danny Gavin left to Baton Rouge to join Mendy Traxler, the new crew in Baton Rouge, for Shabbos, where they have invited many people to join them for services and dinner in their little apartment. A large group of New Orleanians are traveling to New York this week for the Kehaty wedding which was supposed to take place in New Orleans on Wednesday. We will also make a group trip to the Ohel, the Rebbe's resting place to pray for the welfare of the New Orleans community. I look forward to reporting more to you next week.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Full Report From Mississippi - 9/15 10:10 PM
I just met one of the guys who returned from the relief mission to Mississippi. Here is a report.
Aafter our week in Mississippi I would like to try to describe the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina here by the gulf coast as well as accurately convey the absolutely amazing outlook of the people here (especially the Jewish community) and the approach they have taken to dealing with this tremendous disaster.
We are helping the Jewish community with anything they need. This has ranged from providing them with self-heating kosher meals, to talking and comforting those who need a kind listening ear, to cleaning and trying to salvage homes, discovering the whereabouts of missing friends and relatives, landscaping lawns, cleaning pools, cleaning up the Jewish cemetery and assisting and helping transport salvageable belongings to storage facilities. We also have a satellite phone for those who wish to call friends or relatives and let them know they are safe. We have a list of people that were visited by the Chabad "Peace Corps", Chabad rabbinical students who travel to numerous small jewish communities around the world spreading Jewish awareness. We are checking up on these people and making sure they have what to eat and where to sleep. We are offering flights and other forms of transportation for those who wish to travel to friends or relatives for long-term settlement. Chabad is the only Jewish organization on the ground in Southern Mississippi.
No newspaper pictures or TV footage can come close to showing how terrible this area has been hit by the hurricane. During this update I have tried to describe the horrendous scenes I have viewed. By now the streets have mostly been cleared of debris. There are piles of wreckage all along the sides of the streets. Electrical power and water has been returned to most areas. The mail service is up and running for a day or two now. Phone service is still down in most neighborhoods and where it is already running there is sporadic service. Clean-up crews are working hard and some rebuilding has already begun. I have not seen any acts of violence or crime and this can be at least partly attributed to the curfew that begins at 8pm each night (on Tuesday it was extended to 11pm). National Guard troops patrol the streets throughout the day and night. In order to visit the beachside neighborhoods you must pass through checkpoint manned by the National Guard and state police.
The reaction of the Jewish communities in Mississippi has been amazing. Everyone is focusing on the silver lining of this terrible disaster. They speak of how the entire Jewish community has rallied to their side; offering support and assistance. They focus on rebuilding their homes and synagogues. The community is looking after each other, numerous times we’ve been told "so and so needs help with such and such but don’t tell them I sent you." They look forward to rebuilding their homes, businesses and in truth their lives. Some signs we have seen say "received lickin’, but we’re still kickin’", "we’ll rebuild even better than before" and most commonly; "the south will rise again". They look out for each other making sure every community member has what they need or is provided with what they need. They question how something like this can happen but their faith has been strengthened because of this catastrophe. Some people have found us during the past few days who have been living here for years and were never previously interested in connecting to the Jewish community.. The fact that we are here for them means so much to them. They are extremely appreciative and keep repeating over and over again how grateful they are. Everyone we see on the streets thanks us for coming.
Sunday, Jackson, MS
@ 8am sharp we arrived at the Jackson HQ of the Mississippi State Police. Captain Kevin Myers will "escort" us down to the coast. We stopped off to fill up our 4 5-gallon containers with gas we now have a full tank of gas and 30 gallons altogether in containers just in case of an emergency. At the gas station a man driving by stops to thank us for going down to the coast. We pass a car on the highway with paint on the back window "the south will rise again". We were supposed to have received our letters from the Mississippi governor but the cop who picked them up got into an accident on his way back from the governors office and is in the hospital. Officer Myers promises to "take care" of us. On the way down we start to see the calling card left behind by Katrina. Huge trees snapped in half, buildings missing roofs, and signs and billboards ripped from their posts. The closer we get to the coast the worse the damage gets.
We arrived @ 11:00am and spoke to the president of the Jewish community. He put us in contact with the caretaker of the local Jewish Center. We were directed to go to the Jewish Center. On our way there we drove through total devastation! Words cannot begin to describe what we saw. Complete blocks of houses a mile or more away from the coast were wiped out. On the beach everything is decimated. Along the beach only the foundations of the building were left every other remnant of buildings was destroyed. Across the street from the beach the massive hotels were destroyed. Even the road was destroyed in a number of places. Every 20 yards or so is a huge pile of debris. National Guard troops were guarding the I-90 (street along the coast) and without our escort we would not have been allowed there. Driving by we could see all the way through one hotel, every wall and all of the furniture had been sucked out by Katrina leaving a gaping hole all the way through.
At the Jewish Center (which is only blocks from the beach) the brick façade was lying in crumbled heaps in the front yard. Debris littered the entire yard. We met the caretaker and went inside to help clean up. Amazingly the sanctuary was practically untouched, only one window had broken. In other parts of the Jewish Center ceiling tiles had fallen down and wires were exposed. We got to work straightening up. Meanwhile a member of the board and the president showed up and we spoke w/ them for a while One of the people wanted to put on Tefillin.. They all expressed their immense gratitude to us and Chabad in general. "Having you here is like having my family come down", exclaimed the president (who is also the director of tourism for the Gulf Coast).
As we were at the Jewish Center an Israeli fellow pulled up (he noticed our RV/Mitzvah Tank). He had lived nearby for a number of years but never stopped by the Jewish Center. Since Katrina hit he drove by the Jewish Center a number of times every day to see if he could help out his fellow Jews in any way. Every time the Jewish Center was closed, today he finally met someone by the Jewish Center. He was very excited and grateful to meet us. We put on teffilen with him, spoke for a while and gave him a bunch of kosher meals for which he was extremely appreciative of. We also put him in touch with the president of the community. Before we parted he took out his wallet and showed us something he always carries with him… a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He also asked for the fax number to the Ohel which we gave him. We also put on teffilen with the president and caretaker. We got all of the cell phone numbers the Shul had. (landline phones are still not fully operational.)
We gave meals and bottles of water to a number of people we saw on the streets. For the rest of the afternoon, we distributed self heating meals to the hurricane victims, relief workers and National Guard troops patrolling the streets. There were state police from all over the country and I saw a number of state troopers from Missouri. There was also a volunteer relief truck from St. Louis. 8pm was curfew so we finished our distributions and headed back to the RV.
Monday- Gulfport, Long-Beach and Biloxi
By 8am we were already @ the home of the president of the Jewish community. He lives near a small lake and his house was covered in more than a foot of water. (He was ‘fortunate’ the block behind his was covered in 8 feet of water.) Two trees had fallen on the house forcing us to duck down when entering through the front door as the awning had caved in. the entire house stunk of mildew. For a man living alone cleaning his home was overwhelming but for 4 young, able-bodied rabbinical students it was merely a "challenge".
We had to wear rubber gloves and surgical masks to protect ourselves. All the carpeting and rugs were still (this is two weeks after the hurricane hit!) drenched through and through. We shlepped his Persian carpets outside and hung them up to dry on a fence that was miraculously still standing. We pulled up all of the carpeting in his home and heaped them on a pile of debris that was already standing at his curb; none of the carpeting was salvageable. We also scrubbed down his walls with bleach because there was mold growing on them. Most of the house will need to be gutted and will take at least 6 months to rebuild. Before we left a member of our team, a budding mechanic, managed to fix the waterlogged car of Steve Richer.
On Sunday night, when Rabbi Yochanon Rivkin was interviewed on Fox News, he mentioned our relief team in Mississippi (us). One of the women who called up directed us to her nephew, who had a house across the street from the beach in Biloxi which was totally destroyed and, who was staying with a friend in Long Beach, MS. We visited him, and spent some time discussing his experience; he was in a huge barn-like structure during the Hurricane for 16 hours. He was not impressed with the federal government’s response but he was extremely touched by the volunteer relief teams. He was in dire need of money so we arranged to give him money.
We also visited a few of the people on our lists from past Chabad visits. One man lived one block from the Gulfport beach. We had to use our superb powers of persuasion to get past the road blocks preventing non-residents from entering the hardest hit neighborhoods. His entire neighborhood was uninhabitable and reeked of decay, dead fish and mildew. He was not home although we noticed he had been back to clean-up and hang his clothing up outside. We left a number of meals on his step with a letter explaining who we were and with our cell number.
We also visited a woman who is a producer WLOX TV station. She was overjoyed to see us, remembered the Merkos Shluchim and was sleeping @ the station because she had no house left. When we tried to get on the I-90 to return to the community center, we had to convince the National Guard members guarding the checkpoint that we were allowed to be there. A few self-heating meals and cold bottles of water did wonders to persuade them.
Tuesday, Gulfport, MS
We headed over to one of the community member’s homes, a county sheriff, to help him out. He couldn’t believe we were really here. His house wasn’t so badly hit and was already cleaned up and repaired but his yard needed some work. We raked his yard, and cleaned his swimming pool. Here in the south having presentable lawns and nice landscaping is a very serious matter.
As I’ve mentioned before, the folks down here are really working together to make sure everyone is taken care of. Sheriff Mathews heard that a neighbor had moved out of town due to the hurricane so he arranged for another family whose home was destroyed to move in there. Meanwhile he had to finish moving all of the furniture that was left into the garage so the new family could move in. we helped him transport everything into the garage so he wouldn’t have to shlepp everything himself.
We went to visit some more community members we knew of. One was Goldin Metals a Jewish-owned major company in town. The owners are a traditional family that only eats kosher so we dropped off a case of kosher meals at their business after making sure they were alright.
We also visited the ritual director of the community who is also the executive editor of a magazine. We discussed how G-d could do something so terribly catastrophic. We explained how there are no real answers to this question and how finite human beings cannot always understand the ways of the one above. We also pointed out how so many people have had their faith strengthened by the hurricane. At around 7pm we went to the community center and met up with the sheriff we had helped earlier. He took us around the coast in his cruiser. We visited the jewish cemetery (cleared some branches off of the gravestones) and then drove along the I-90 to areas we had not had a chance to visit. We saw about 5 riverboat/barge casinos that had been transported from their normal places. One huge barge had been lifted 3 blocks west and then settled smack in the middle of the road. The gulf area was the importing point of bananas. Hundreds of refrigerator trucks and tractor trailers were littered in all states of destruction across parking lots and streets across from the beach.
We ate supper and drove down to Hattiesburg, MS which was also hit pretty hard. As we haven’t had showers since Saturday night we camp out at a trucker stop and take showers there for a mere $6 a pop.
Wednesday, Hattiesburg, MS
We visited a number of families from our list and heard some amazing stories. Hattiesburg wasn’t really flooded from what I understand but there were terrific winds that caused a tremendous about of trees to collapse. In front of almost every house there is a pile of trees that have been removed from on top of houses and yards. The first family we visited owns 6.5 acres of wooded property and over 150 trees fell in his yard due to the hurricane. They described how the entire neighborhood had come together to help clear the entire area. By some miracle not a single tree fell upon their house itself!
Two other families we met with described similar stories; throughout their neighborhoods nearly all the houses were damaged by falling trees yet their own homes were unscathed. One man stated unequivocally "our home was safe because we have a mezuzah". His son and daughter-in-law lived in Pass Christian (a coastal city) about a half-mile from the beach. Their entire neighborhood was almost completely obliterated! When they went to visit their own home, where there had been 20 feet of water, they found almost all of their belongings destroyed. Among the few possessions that were left were an unharmed mezuzah and a birchat habayis plaque. This couple explained how immediately after the hurricane had passed all of the neighbors came outside and started working together; sharing generators, chain saws and distributing food. A number of the families in Hattiesburg asked us to move down full time and open a Chabad center there. As in all the places we’ve been they appreciated our coming down to help them out, to speak with them and discuss their traumatic experiences and especially those delicious kosher meals. We heard of a conservative rabbi who had come down to Hattiesburg and only eats kosher so we left a bunch of meals for her.
As we heard over and over again Southern Mississippi will rebuild (larger and better than before). The folks down there know that it will not be quick or easy. Not all of the recovery will be accomplished by construction workers. One social worker we met noted that the number of people who will suffer from post-traumatic-stress-syndrome will be enormous. Today there are a number of organizations helping out but help will be needed throughout the rebuilding process. Chabad Lubavitch is dedicated to providing assistance for the long haul whatever it takes we will not forget the Jews of Mississippi. we will definitely be keeping in touch with the many people we have met during our mission to Mississippi.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Reunion in LaGuardia 9/13 10:17 AM
Last night, R.C. , a 70 yr. old woman from New Orleans, arrived in Laguardia Airport.
She was in Jackson, MS with friends, where she had evacuated from the storm. She was staying in a private house with 19 others, but she wanted to get to New York, so that she could be with her family.
Rabbi Yirmy Berkowitz, from Lubavitch Headquarters, was able to get her an airline ticket to Laguardia, under a program that we are now running to provide travel subsidies to evacuees trying to get to family.
When she arrived at the airport in New York, she enjoyed a tearful reunion with family who thanked G-d that she was alive, and well.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Fox News Helps Out 9/12 4:45 PM
On Sunday afternoon, I appeared on the Fox News Cable Channel to talk about our Hurricane Relief Efforts. I talked about everything that we are doing, including the teams of Rabbinical Students that we have in Mississippi and Louisiana.
So, today, someone called me and said that she saw me on TV yesterday, and her cousin was in Long Beach Mississippi, needed help, and she heard that we have people in the area that could help.
I contacted our guys down there, and within a few hours they met with him, gave him some spiritual and emotional support, and made arrangements for a bit of emergency money so that he can get through the next couple of days until he is able to return to his home and job in Biloxi.
The power of televsion!
San Antonio Carnival 9/12 8:14 AM
Yesterday, we tried something new in San Antonio. It is really hard to be away from home, especially in a shelter. So, Chabad brought a carnival for the kids to enjoy. It was really nice, despite bad weather, and everyone went back in a better mood than when they came. Plus, the Saints won, so that makes it even better :-)Here is the carnival story
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Jackson Outreach 9/10 11:45 PM
More from Mississippi:
On Friday, we spent our time meeting with Rabbis and community leaders in Jackson. One of the people with whom we met was hosting a New Orleans relative, who had evacuated the storm. We had a warm conversation with him about faith and he talked about this experience being a spiritual awakening for him.
We also distributed our Kosher self heating meals to several people. They are really popular!
Many of the New Orleans evacuees had names of loved ones that they were worried about. They wanted us to help them locate people. We are including those names in our report tonight to Lubavitch World Headquarters, and we hope that these people will be located soon.
On Sunday morning, we are headed to Biloxi. We hope that we will have a safe and productive trip.
Friday, September 09, 2005
The Mississippi Guys 9/9 6:30 PM
Our teams got to Mississippi today. Here are some of their first impressions. These are Yeshiva Students who have decided to take some time out of their studies to try to assist in relief for disaster victims.
One of them writes:
I would like to begin by expressing my amazement at the outlook and feelings of the people of Jackson and the evacuees we have encountered. The entire community in Jackson is working to house the evacuees; one family had 15 people staying with them! The positive mind-set of the evacuees is simply amazing. We came expecting to find them downhearted and dejected. Instead we have found the exact opposite that have all put a positive spin on things and are focused on showing appreciation to those who are helping as well as trying to help others. These are families who have lost their homes and nearly all their possessions, they have had close friends and family members who have died yet when we call their first reaction is to make sure we are taken care of. As one woman put it "if I wasn’t helping others I wouldn’t know what to do"!
Everyone we have met on the streets has been so helpful and appreciative of what we are doing and in truth of all the relief workers. My flight mainly consisted of relief workers, soldiers and members of the National Guard. The pilot made an announcement over the PA thanking all of the hurricane relief workers and soldiers. The announcement was met with a resounding round of applause. After the announcement every person seated in the First Class cabin (business men and women) came to the back and exchanged their seats with those of the soldiers as an expression of their appreciation for their work.
Late in the afternoon, after visiting several families (more on that later,) we had some trouble with out RV, and we brought it in to a service center, who, upon hearing what we were doing did the work for us for free, only charging us cost on the materials!
The Baton Rouge guys. 9/9 3:22 PM
The guys that we have in Baton Rouge are doing a great job
Ordinarily, Baton Rouge is a small Jewish community (about 1500 people.) Right now, they are doing a phenomenal job in helping hundreds of Jewish refugees find temporary, and in some cases, semi-permanent, housing.See the story here
Chabad originally sent people down to B.R. to provide logisitics for the rescue teams. But, before they left, they decided to take a few thousand self-heating, refrigeration free Kosher meals. (Sounds scary but the food actually tastes really good, and it heats itself up. You just open the package and, in a few minutes, you have a hot meal.) They have been giving them out at the shelters. This morning, one of the Yeshiva students told me that FEMA called them last night. It seems that some of the FEMA workers are Jewish, and they heard that Chabad had hot Kosher food. Of course, we were happy to provide some food, and we did not even make them fill out eight pages of online forms :-)
Tonight, they are having a Shabbat dinner for the rescue team, and for any other Jew interested in a Shabbat dinner in Baton Rouge
Reuniting With the Torahs 9/9 12:30 PM
In an extraordinarily moving celebration last night, my father (Rabbi Zelig Rivkin) and brother (Rabbi Mendel) drove to Baton Rouge from Houston to personally receive five Torah scrolls that were rescued from the Chabad House. I talked to them while they were in Lafayette, at the home of Dr. Aviner. (Dr. Aviner has been a guest in our community for Shabbats and Holidays, and he is relishing the oppportunity to repay the community for their past hospitality.)
The rescue teams returned from New Orleans last night, bringing out five people. They had two, and then got a call from another rescue team to pick up three more people.
They brought them to medical center, and then joined the rest of the team for a moving ceremony in which they handed over the Torahs.
One of the lead Chabad rescuers, a non-Jewish guy, retrieved the Torahs under significant personal risk on Tuesday and refused to allow them to leave his eyes until he received faxed authorization from Rabbi Sharfstein at Lubavitch World Headqurters that he may do so. The love and respect this man demonstrated boggles the mind. Everyone expressed effusive appreciation to him for all of his efforts across the board. My father was very emotional as he put the Torahs into his car, bringing them to Houston, where they will be used this Shabbos, at services attended by some of the members of our community
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Using the Chabad Network 9/8 10:45
Since we arrived in New York, we have been trying to coordinate our relief effort. Our huge advantage is the fact that we are connected to over 1000 centers across the country so we can help evacuees from Seattle to South Carolina. We contact the local Chabad in the area, and the local Rabbi provides assistance, which we try to pay for out of our fund. In areas like Houston, where thousands of evacuees have arrived, the local Chabad has its own fund, and is being swamped with requests. My brother, Mendel, is updating the Houston effort. They are really amazing there.
One of the things that we are doing is facilitating adopt-a-family. Communities are assuming responsibility for housing and finding employment for a Jewish family that was displaced by Katrina. It is a great Mitzvah!
Tulane Scatters 9/8 10:07 PM
Sarah and I have been in touch with lots of students who have are scrambling to find schools for the semester. (Tulane hopes to be operating in the spring semester, so people are on visiting student status.) The scattering of Tulane is kind of sad for us, but here is a great idea. On the weekend of Nov. 4, Chabad is hosting a National Shabbaton in Brooklyn, for over 75 Chabad on Campus groups throughout the country. Let’s have a Tulane reunion. Mark your calendars NOW!
New Orleans Rescues 9/8 9:58 PM
Sarah and I have not posted for a while, because we were driving up to New York, and then we went full force into the relief effort.
Here is what has been going on.
On Sunday night, we managed to insert a rescue team into the area, so that we could get to all the people that are still stuck in there. A problem that they encounter is that people sometimes don't want to leave. They feel that they survived the storm and survived the flood, so they may as well stick it out. They don't understand the health hazards in the city right now. Many need to be visited time after time, by different rescuers, before they are convinced.
Another problem is communications. Cellphones still can't receive calls in the area most of the time, so we have to wait until the team calls us, so we can get them information.
A frustrating story from yesterday, and also a heartrending one. We received a web request to rescue a woman who was in the area, with an 11 yr. old daughter. With the team facing curfew, we decided to prioritize that mission, because of the child involved. But, when the team arrived, the woman refused to leave, because she was missing a three yr. old, and was still hoping to find him. Tragic.
But, the rescue team has also done some great things. We really appreciate all the support we received across the country, which enabled us to launch this effort.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Mendel's Diary September 7 11:45 PM
It has been a while and much has happened in these last few days. Miraculously Chabad has been very effective at rescuing people that were still in New Orleans. That has been alot of the effort this week. We are also greeting the many Jews from our community that have come to Houston for the time being. We intend to create a little piece of New Orleans in Houston. Now that two of the five Shluchim families are in New York, they are getting invloved in helping to oversee the massive relief effort that we have launched with the help of Chabad HQ and many Chabad Shluchim in the USA. We have been invited by the Chabad of CA Telethon to particiapte and raise awareness for the relief fund there. So many Chabad communities and others have offered to adopt a family from New Orleans, it as been very heartwarming to continue seeing the caring and love of the Jewish community. We are planning some special Rosh Hashanah programs for New Orleans Jews in several places. Stay tuned for more info. People are getting settled. Children have started school. But New Orleans is sorely missed. We heard good news today. Torah Academy School Board president Morris Kahn toured the premises and reports that there was very little damage to the facility. So all of the hard work this summer was not a waste. It is very important that we stay in touch with each other. I am in the process of finishing our database of families and contact info. A comprehensive list is also available from the New Orleans Federation site jewishnola.com. There is alot to tell and I will try to write more often.
Friday, September 02, 2005
More people we have heard from Friday, September 2
I will be creating a seperate page for this info after Shabbat
Eileen and Dana Wallen
Henry and Eva Galler
Claire and Manny Renov
Mark and Tracy Rubenstein
Benny and Efraim Naghi
Sarah Rivkin's Diary 9/2 2:37 PM
After hours spent in front of the computer, glued to the news, the updates, the pictures of our hometown, I am quite numbed by the cruel reality.
After days spent in friend’s homes, connected by phone calls and emails to our neighbors, friends, family, and concerned people, I am quite melted by their kindness and sensitivity.
I guess those more seasoned by life than I, will recognize that pattern.There is light in the dark; there is hope in the despair.There are so many things these days that can bring tears to my eyes. And most of them are familiar questions.
Why did this have to happen?
So many good things were happening in the city...
So many good people built lives in this city...
So many innocent people...
But I also have learned lessons in these past few days, that i hope will forever remain fresh in my mind.I have learned that while we spend many hours accumulating material possessions, andwhile we even let ourselves be defined by what we own, those are all layers.And that even when they all get stripped away, painful as that may be, we can still exist and continue on. Because it is what we do for others, what we create between people, that no flood can wash away.
I have also learned the power of a generous spirit. The Goldmans, Chabad Shluchim in Gainesvile Florida at the University of Florida, who opened their home and office, and put all their resources and attention at our disposal, probably do not even realize that they have provided me with an experience that will be life-altering.now that I have seen first hand what it means to put ones self aside, to inconvenience oneself, and not even mind, because I have the other person’s welfare first in my mind... there is such power in these actions and much hope for this world that can contain people like this.
The Oirechmans, Chabad Shluchim from Tallahassee, Florida, as well as the Lipskers, Chabad Shluchim at Emory in Atlanta, have also welcomed us into our homes with such generosity and friendship that i am having a hard time feeling sorry for myself.and this was just my personal experience. I know that communities all over have opened their homes, purses, freed their schedules, and put their daily life on hold to acknowledge and help in this time of crisis.I feel that every friend and family member who takes a moment to call or email is taking a moment out of their daily schedule to acknowledge us in our trying times and incredibly enough that gives me the strength and energy to look hopefully onto a bigger and better future.
That is the end of my pre-shabbos soliloquy (this Friday night we were supposed to kick off our Chabad student program at Tulane with a grand Mardi Gras Shabbat dinner - and my hands are unexpectedly idle right now), but I want to end with the most important part of my message:
People are flooding us with messages- what can we do to help.And sure financial assistance, hosting families, and all that relief efforts are crucial.But that is working within the normal order of the world. within nature.But doing a mitzvah is working above the natural order. It is the straight connection to G-d.
So please, please Jewish women. Light Shabbat candles.To find out candle lighting times go to www.chabad.org or check your local Jewish calendar.Do this for all the people of New Orleans whose lives where thrown into chaos at best, and whose lives are still in danger, G-d forbid, at worst.Good Shabbos.
May the cumulative light of all our good deeds finally break through and finally end all darkness.forever. all over.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Mendel's Diary - September 1 11:55 PM
This morning Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff took Rabbi Rivkin and myself to the Astrodome, the staging ground for the evacuees, where we spent several hours searching for familiar faces and counselling people. We also had a chance to network with the Red Cross and other groups that are heading up the relief effort in Houston. We met a New Orleans Times Picayune reporter who is Jewish and spent some time with him. Meanwhile, Bluma, Malkie and Yosef Rivkin have been manning the phones trying to contact people and follow up with the myriads of messages from people who want to locate loved ones, offer help etc. Rabbi and Mrs. Traxler of Chabad of Houston have allowed us to use some of their office space as a little central command for New Orleans Jewish connections. Rabbi Rivkin met with the Houston federation leadership along with members of the New Orleans federation who are in Houston to discuss the relief effort and future rebuilding. Several New Orleans children spent their first day at Torah Day School in Houston. Tonight there was a prayer service, where Rabbi Rivkin addressed the assembled about the situation and the fund that was set up on our site. We met with a member of the New Orleans community who is still trying to track down his mother. We are trying to connect local host families with people in need of hospitality. We are receiving constant requests for interviews from various news agencies and members of the media just walk up to us and start filming and asking questions. It has been a grueling day and we intend to continue tomorrow to keep looking for missing people. As news of more people that are located comes in we are happy. I was elated to finally have spoken with Rabbi Nemes who is in Memphis currently. His neighbors, Jane Tavlin and the Walthers are finally safe as well, thank G-d. Chabad here has really openned up for us and they continue to amaze us with their generosity and willingness to help. People are bringing things by and calling off the hook with offers for help. I will try to get more in tomorrow before Shabbat begins.
List of New Orleans people I have heard from - Thursday Sep. 1 11:45 PM
For now I will just post names. I will try to fill in info at a later time.
Roberta Kalmanson and Brita
Abe and Bobbette Szyller
Dan and Marcy Fertel
Adam and Michele Stross
Steve and Lee Rittvo
Michael and Terri Hertzig
Paul and Arlene Barron
Nerrisa and Ari Cohen
Rick and MAria Palmer
Kurtz Lender Family
George and Elaine Haas
Bill and Doris Norman
Morris and MArylin Brum
Joel and Vivian Friedman
Ari and Janina Madoff
Susan and Gerald Levin
Evelyn and Lillian Rodos
Some News about Families in the community 9/1 3:07 PM
I have heard from some people, and I know that people are checking, so I'll post it here.
The Stross's are in Northeast Texas staying with a friend.
The Schreibers were in Lafayette, and I think that they are moving on to Houston. The Kehaty's are in Memphis, they are not sure where Tal Or's wedding will be.
Ari and Nerissa Cohen and kids are fine, they will be in Seattle.
Lonnie Schaeffer and family made it out on Tuesday, and they are getting Memphis.
Jon Powell is in Pensacola.
The Kaufmann's are in Dallas.
Karen Remer and kids were out of town, they are staying in Northern Virginia right now, Gary is there now as well.
The Lews are in Houston.
Any info on anyone else would be very appreciated.