What do you give to a community who has lost a good portion of their material possessions, along with their homes, jobs and secure future? As humanitarian organizations and individuals scramble to adequately provide for the many needs of a displaced population, Louisiana’s Chabad Rabbis came through this Rosh Hashanah with something only they could offer: a sense of community.
“When people talk about what they miss about being home in New Orleans, a common theme that emerges is the sense of being together with your community, feeling at home with a group of people with whom you share so much,” says Rabbi Yossi Nemes, director of Chabad of Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. Nemes, along with Louisiana’s senior Chabad Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, three other local Rabbis and their respective families spent Rosh Hashanah with close to 150 New Orleaneans who shared those feelings over the holiday. Celebrating with members of their own community at Chabad’s Rosh Hashanah retreat in Monroe, Louisiana, he says, was a priceless gift.
Over two moving, inspiring days, Jewish New Orleaneans now spread across several states prayed, dined, shared experiences, and reconnected with each other. “Most people are not sure whether they’ll be moving back,” says Nemes, “But over the holiday, we made a firm commitment to keep up our sense of community despite the distances involved.”
For the Newman family of Metairie, the gifts of family and community were especially meaningful this Rosh Hashanah. The family reunited with friends from home and spent time with their son, Manny, who had just returned from several months of duty in Iraq. Having managed to leave New Orleans before Katrina struck, the Newman’s related stories of incredible kindness and generosity shown to them by random strangers in the weeks since then. “When you’ve lost so much, your perspective somehow changes, and the feeling of being with your community takes on new meaning,” says Nemes. With New Orleans Jewry at such a pivotal crossroads, it’s a feeling you want to hold on to, he says.