On Monday night, Chabad House in New Orleans opened for the first time. I was not there, but my parents were in town. They built their Sukkah in the yard of their house, put up the large "Happy Sukkot" sign on their gate and arranged for people to stay with them, and in our house, for the holiday.
On Monday, my father was not sure whether there would be ten men for the Minyan on the holiday of Sukkot. He was pretty sure about nine, but was worried about the tenth. In fact, Monday night saw 36 people in the Sukkah, for Sukkot dinner. Members of several synagogues, as well as FEMA workers and others in town for contstruction and clean up, joined my parents, and their family for the Holiday.
My sister, Devora (who has been volunteering with processing some of the contributions that have been coming in,) said the following. "When I was in Shul on Tuesday morning, and I looked around the room and saw that more than 20 Jews were singing Hallel, in New Orleans, I..." She did not finish the sentence, but I could imagine what she was saying. Thank G-d that we are able to say that New Orleans is celebrating Sukkot.
On Tuesday afternoon, a women walked into the Sukkah, with a loud Good Tom Tov! It seems that her daughter (a former student at Tulane, who used to come to Shabbat dinners at Chabad House,) was in New Orleans, and she flew down to help her daughter clean up. A friend had mentioned a "Happy Sukkot" sign on Broadway, and she came to see for herself.
The Rebbe always taught that the Shluchim must be there to serve their communities, even if only one person needs their help. Thank G-d, there are many more than one person in need of Jewish life in New Orleans.
The Jewish Week (a New York based Jewish paper) covered the Rosh Hashanah retreat that we put together. The article was written by a reporter who spent a good bit of time with us in Monroe, and I think that it does a good job of conveying the atmosphere of the holiday that we experienced. Here is the link
Tomorrow is Yom Kippur. Here is a great story
that I think has some special relevance to the New Orleans community. Have an easy fast.
One of the things that we have been working on since the Hurricane was a way to allow the Jewish Community to enjoy Rosh Hashanah together. We decided to put together the Rosh Hashanah Retreat, and try to get it sponsored, so that New Orleans families could participate without trouble. We contacted a good friend, Joseph Hakim, of Monroe, LA, and worked out a way that we could use his hotel for Rosh Hashanah. We then invited 50 families and individuals to come to the hotel, free of charge, and enjoy the holiday.
It was a lot of hard work. The food was all cooked up in New York, and we had to rent a refrigerated truck to bring all the food to Monroe. Along the way, the truck also dropped off supplies to our guys in Baton Rouge. We got a generous donation of Challahs, cookies, rolls and cakes from Mezonos Maven bakery in New York, which made a huge difference.
The retreat itself was incredible. From the moments the buses from Houston and Memphis arrived, it was clear that the experience was going to be special. The kids, who had not seen each other in weeks, were thrilled, and many of the adults had tears in their eyes as they greeted friends.
The services were led by the Chabad Rabbis, and at dinner, people got up and shared their experiences, talked about what they missed about the New Orleans community, and discussed the future. It was truly inspiring.
The Atrium hotel treated us in the most amazing way. They even bought fish, and put them in the fountain in the lobby, so we could do Tashlich there on the first day of Rosh Hashana.
People felt uplifted. One man, who is currently staying in Baton Rouge, had intended to return to Baton Rouge right after services on the first say, because he felt that he could not miss work. At lunch, following services he got up and announced that he was staying. He said that he did not realize how much he missed the warmth of the Chabad community until this moment.
At the end of the holiday, people hugged, cried and went about their separate ways, as we all wondered whether we would ever all spend the holidays together, and how many of us would be back in New Orleans for the next holiday.
The Retreat was made possible by generous sponsorships by many people, and we really appreciate those efforts.