As New Orleans Jews flee storm, neighboring communities open doors

new york | Adam Bronstone barely slept the other night.

After evacuating New Orleans and heading west to Houston on Saturday, Aug. 27, to avoid Hurricane Katrina, he had a lot on his mind.

“You’re worried about where it’s going to hit,” said Bronstone, director of communications for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. “You’re worried about the place you live in; the place you work; the synagogue I go to, which is near the lake; the federation office, which is on a beautiful campus that’s only three years old and is also near the lake. I worry about where I’m going to be next week.”

Bronstone is among the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Jews from New Orleans and its environs who are believed to have fled the city to stay out of harm’s way. He has taken up residence with a friend who works at Houston’s Israeli Consulate.

Other consulate employees have taken in other refugees from the hurricane, he said.

It was too early to assess damage to Jewish sites in the area — among them New Orleans’ Touro Synagogue, which bills itself as the oldest Jewish house of worship in America outside of the original 13 colonies.

Jewish organizations in the region and beyond pitched in to help out those touched by Katrina.

Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, gave a $5000 emergency grant to hunger relief organizations in the disaster area.

A Jewish camp in Mississippi was opened to New Orleans residents fleeing the storm. Nearly 150 evacuees, including some disabled adults, took shelter at the Reform movement’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica.

Three Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries remained in New Orleans to help residents who couldn’t leave the city.

Among them was Rabbi Yossi Nemes. He’d received a panicked phone call from a visiting Jewish family that had been evicted from their hotel, which was shuttering up against the storm, a Chabad spokesman said.

While many New Orleans Jews headed west to Houston — which under normal circumstances is a five- to six-hour drive but, because of traffic, took some people more than 10 hours — others landed in Birmingham, Ala., Nashville, Atlanta, Austin, Florida and elsewhere.

Bronstone’s New Orleans-based cell phone service was going in and out, he said, which made it tough to get work done. But the CEO of Houston’s federation, Lee Wunsch, has allowed Bronstone and the New Orleans federation’s executive director to use his organization’s facilities.

“I wanted to be able to go in and get some work done and feel useful,” Bronstone said. “This is the story of ‘kol Yisrael areivim zeh b’zeh,'” an expression that means Jews look after one another. “In times of need, Jews always help each other. This is one of those times.”

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