Gulf Coast Jews adrift for Holy Days

first_imgBad luck keeps following Stephen Richer. Last year at the start of Rosh Hashana, a hurricane evacuation sent him and a cantor at his tiny Biloxi, Miss., synagogue on an odyssey across the state to find a congregation where they could mark the Jewish New Year. This year, as the High Holy Days begin tonight, Richer will once again be searching for a spiritual home. His Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, is one of many across the Gulf Coast that have been shuttered by extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina. “I’m very happy to have this year over,” Richer said. “We’ve had a lot of tragedy.” Jewish leaders don’t know when – if ever – their communities will reunite. About 10,000 Jews lived in the New Orleans area, and Eric Stillman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, has been trying to track them. Working out of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, he has contacted about 1,400 of the 3,600 families who were in his organization’s database. Synagogue leaders have started their own online lists, but many families still have not been reached. “It’s hard to predict,” said Stillman, who fled New Orleans with his wife and two children. “Some people have said they’re not going to come back. … Some people have already returned.” Those able to get home have found their synagogues with smashed roofs, shattered windows, flooded basements, and mold and mildew growing in sanctuaries. As Katrina battered the region, anxiety spread among Jewish leaders about the Torah scrolls inside the buildings. The scrolls, which Jews believe contain the word of God, are the holiest objects in Judaism. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 The 10-day period of repentance and renewal, among the most important in the Jewish calendar, arrives as Jewish evacuees are scattered throughout the country, their homes destroyed, their jobs gone and their future unclear. Victims say the generosity of religious leaders in cities where they’ve sought refuge has helped ease discomfort about celebrating the holidays in an alien environment. Orthodox Jews have found housing for evacuees near congregations so they can observe the Jewish prohibition against driving on the High Holy Days. One Florida rabbi packed his Cessna with kosher meat and cheese, Sabbath candles and challah and flew the supplies to Biloxi, where members of Beth Israel may hold services at a military base. Other Jewish groups have sent prayer books, while Baptist, Roman Catholic and Unitarian churches have offered space for services. Still, many displaced Jews say the pain of having lost everything will only be compounded by observing sacred rituals among strangers. “I think the word is bittersweet,” said Ruth Kullman, president of Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, a Reform congregation that was damaged and will not reopen for the holiday period, which ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Kullman, her husband and her 93-year-old mother-in-law fled to Memphis where Kullman’s sister lives. “We’re all so grateful to be here and together. We’re just sad that we can’t be celebrating the way we always had,” she said. last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *