U.S. Jews Use Creative Methods to Help Hurricane Katrina Evacuees

One suburban Washington family is doing its best to make sure some of the child evacuees of Hurricane Katrina have something to hold onto at night. The Lipsy family of Rockville, Md., has collected more than 1,000 stuffed animals and dolls to bring to New Orleans evacuees who are expected to come to the Washington area.

Karen Lipsy said her daughters Rachel, 16, and Shaina, 14 — students at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville — saw some children clutching teddy bears during the television coverage and decided to collect stuffed animals for children caught up in Katrina.

“We wanted to give them that security blanket back again,” she said.

The Lipsys’ effort is just one of countless projects that Jewish individuals and communities throughout the United States have launched to help those devastated by Katrina.

In designing responses to the devastation that ravaged New Orleans and the nearby Gulf coast, creativity appears to be the watchword.

Another Washington-area resident, Jeanne Ellinport, whose childhood home in New Orleans was destroyed, has joined with three other local women from The Big Easy for “Taste of New Orleans” (www.helpnawlins.org).

The four women will prepare their favorite New Orleans dishes for anyone who brings a gift card that can be used to buy supplies for displaced New Orleans residents from stores such as Sears, Home Depot or Wal-Mart. The first event is scheduled for Sunday.

In New Jersey, two synagogues have “adopted” Mississippi synagogues damaged in the storm.

The Jewish Center in Princeton has agreed to provide for the needs of another Conservative shul, Congregation Beth Israel in Biloxi. Reform Temple Beth Miriam in Elberon will do the same for Congregation B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg.

“We’ll meet whatever needs they come up with whether that be a new sefer Torah or extra prayer books,” said Rabbi Cy Stanway of Beth Miriam. “We’ve even offered to do weddings and bar mitzvahs here if they can’t do them in their building. We would put up guests and do whatever we had to make it happen for them. Our Hebrew school is thinking of donating their first month’s tzedakah money. The rabbi’s discretionary fund will probably send something.”

B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, 42 miles north of Biloxi, is in an area that didn’t sustain the damage of Biloxi or Gulfport, but the synagogue has no power, suffered structural damage to buildings and had many trees uprooted.

For Stanway, the connection was a natural since B’nai Israel was his previous pulpit before coming to New Jersey.

Congregants at the Jewish Center in Elberon plan to make a trip south to visit their new sister congregation.

“We look forward to taking a field trip and celebrating a Shabbat in Biloxi,” said Linda Grenis, president of the Princeton synagogue. “That’s the nicest part about being Jewish, that we all take care of each other.”

Some members of the Jewish community in Los Angeles headed into the hurricane’s devastation zone.

Rabbis Tzemach Rosenfeld and Chaim Kolodny, leaders of the L.A. chapter of Hatzolah, an emergency-response volunteer group, arrived in Montgomery, Ala., on Labor Day to help out for at least a week, bringing with them a suitcase loaded with kosher food.

“We never know who we’re going to bump into,” Kolodny said.

For Jewish schools across the country, the relief efforts are being used as a teaching moment. Many Jewish schools are offering free and reduced tuition to children from the hurricane region whose families have sought refuge in their areas.

Fifth- and sixth-graders at the Shalom School in Sacramento, Calif., are making Rosh Hashanah honey pots for sale, with proceeds earmarked for hurricane relief.

At Gideon Hausner Day School in Palo Alto, a schoolwide hurricane tzedakah drive netted $1,000 on its first day.

“The younger students understand that there are people who lost their homes, and they want to do something,” said Cindy Schlesinger, head of the middle school program. “We told our kids, ‘Go to your piggy banks.’ “

In San Francisco, Anita Friedman, executive director of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services, has been coordinating with state and local officials, the Red Cross and the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies to help with immediate needs of families relocated to the Bay Area.

“Resettlement of masses of people requires a complex combination of skills, knowledge of local resources and trauma counseling for the uprooted people, especially children,” Friedman said. “Resettling to the Bay Area is like resettling in midtown Manhattan. This is an area where the cost of living is one of the highest in the country and where job opportunities are limited.”

In Akron, Ohio, Operation Abraham will provide displaced families with free housing in units donated by local Jewish landlords and free synagogue membership offered by the area’s four congregations.

It also offers free schooling at the Jerome Lippman Jewish Community Day School and at the Shaw Jewish Community Center Preschool.

Meanwhile, Michael Lorge, a community leader in Chicago, is leading an effort to provide personal items to residents of the Gulf states affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Lorge began organizing Operation Ezra, a collection effort at Temple Beth Israel in Skokie. Items will be sent to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Jacobs in Utica, Miss., which is acting as a distribution center for the region.

“A 10,000-square-foot warehouse holds a lot of stuff,” Lorge said. “If we have to go back down there in a month with more items, we will.”

For some Jews in San Francisco, the priority is helping those near Katrina’s ground zero. Rabbi Eric Weiss of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center is heading for Baton Rouge to provide pastoral counseling.

Representatives from the Jewish Community in Baton Rouge contacted Weiss, requesting his assistance. Weiss has undergone disaster training and did a rabbinic internship in New Iberia, La.

“People need to help one another,” he says. “When the phone rings, we say, ‘Yes.’ “

Debra Rubin of the Jewish State in New Jersey; David Finnigan of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles; Eric Fingerhut of the Washington Jewish Week; Dan Pine of j., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California; the Akron Jewish News and the Chicago Jewish News all contributed to this report.

NEXT STORY