To the Editor:
I enjoyed your recent article on the New Orleans Jewish community and the amazing story of the dedication of the new Beth Israel Synagogue after its old building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I want to clarify, however, that the Jewish population of New Orleans was 9,500 in 2005 before Katrina, not the higher number that was reported. This number was based on the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans Federation’s own highly accurate and extensive data base.
Today, exactly seven years later, our numbers are 9,580, slightly more than 2005 and significantly growing. So we have more than replenished what we lost.
Tragically we have lost many members who were not able to return, including major donors and lay leaders. However, we are fortunate that through the remarkable resilience and creativity of this community, we embarked upon and have just successfully completed the implementation of our post Katrina Strategic Plan for Rebuilding and Renewal.
One of the flagship programs, as noted in your story, was our innovative Newcomers Program that has brought more than 2,000 new community members through a comprehensive basket of benefits, incentives and embracement. Most of the newcomers are young and dedicated to tikkun olam and social justice and the rebuilding of this great city.
And the newcomers continue to move here. The last month has seen a particularly high surge, as newcomers move after university and prepare for study, school and work. New Orleans is the fastest-growing city in America in terms of population. And from our own statistics, we know that 80 percent of newcomers stay.
The Jewish community is seeing much Jewish experimentation with new programs such as Avodah, Moishe House, LimmudFest and many more; and there is even an active Jewish singles scene.
These days we are grappling with the arrival of Hurricane Isaac, but the city and the levees are more prepared than ever.
Michael J. Weil
Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans