The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the 117th Annual Convention

of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

San Diego, CA

June, 2006


Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster to strike the United States in this nation’s history. Millions of people, many of them among the poorest and most vulnerable of our fellow citizens, were deeply affected by the storm and the ensuing flood. Lives were lost, and others were devastated. Among those whose lives were indelibly altered are CCAR members serving the New Orleans Jewish community, their families, their friends and neighbors, and the institutions they serve.

Almost ten months have gone by since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Another hurricane season has begun. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are still feeling its effects. The city of New Orleans — a historic city, a cultural gem, and one of America’s most important ports — still faces an uncertain future. Our Union for Reform Judaism — led by CCAR member, Rabbi Eric Yoffie — has done magnificent work in the aftermath of Katrina, with significant support from countless CCAR members and the communities our members serve, together with countless other individuals and worthy organizations. URJ relief efforts raised $3.4 million and brought 3,000,000 pounds of supplies to communities in need during the fall of 2005. A substantial portion of our Movement’s good work was done, both in providing shelter and in the “Jacob’s Ladder” initiative, at URJ’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp. Not coincidentally, URJ Greene Family Camp provided shelter to scores of refugees as Hurricane Rita struck, only weeks later.

Rabbis, congregations, and individuals in Houston, Jackson and Baton Rouge, throughout the southeast, in Texas and across the country performed countless acts of hesed, expended tremendous financial resources, energy, and volunteer effort to provide succor to Katrina victims, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

Despite all this good work, the challenge posed by Katrina has not ended, and neither has our work.

In keeping with the principle, kol Yisrael areivim ze bazeh, URJ efforts have extended to the current S.O.S. (Save our Synagogues) Campaign. URJ commitments are currently joining other donors in sustaining the four New Orleans-area Reform congregations. Each has suddenly lost a significant number of members and many of those who remain are now financially compromised. Without this assistance, these historic congregations would not be able to pay their bills; and CCAR members and other synagogue professionals would have reason for great concern about their families’ livelihoods.

CCAR colleagues in the New Orleans area have expressed their deepest gratitude for the support they have received from colleagues and from our Movement. At the same time, they have asked their colleagues in SWARR and throughout CCAR to visit New Orleans, to continue to support URJ and other relief efforts, and to push for increased federal funding to rebuild and protect New Orleans for all its citizens.

Financial relief and direct action have been at the heart of our Movement’s work thus far. While these efforts are indispensable, they do not, by definition, serve to address the long-term challenges faced by Gulf Coast residents. CCAR precedent and the prophetic imperative would have us look also to an advocacy-based approach to serving the needs of Gulf Coast residents and providing for a strong, fair and sustainable future for New Orleans and other communities in the region.

The governmental response to Hurricane Katrina, at every level, has been woefully inadequate. At the federal level, sorely insufficient funding has been made available to address the acute housing, health care, education, employment, poverty, environmental, infrastructure and voting rights issues facing New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

A few examples of the most striking problems include:

1. Hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents lack homes to which they may return. Having a home is a basic human right, and is a Jewish value, expressed in J. Moed Katan 2.4, inter alia.

2. While Medicaid assistance has been extended for those living in states directly affected by Hurricane Katrina, other states hosting Katrina victims have received no additional Medicaid allocation, while they face deep cuts in Medicaid and Medicare generally. Basic health care is a human right, affirmed in our Jewish tradition by Maimonides and many others.

3. Only 15% of New Orleans’ public schools have reopened to date. Education is critical to the American promise of equal opportunity, and is affirmed in countless Jewish texts, including the Torah (e.g. Deut. 6:7) and Medieval Commentators (e.g. Rashi to Ex. 13:14).

4. With the beginning of a new hurricane season, extreme doubts continue as to the readiness of new levees to protect the city from another devastating storm. Indeed, the Army Corps of Engineers itself only predicts that, by summer’s end, levees will be able to withstand a Category 3 hurricane. Protection against disaster is one of society’s most basic duties, just as our Torah teaches that we must reduce risks to bodily harm. (See Deut. 22:8, for example.)

5. The destruction of Louisiana wetlands, the first line of defense against hurricanes, exacerbated the impact of Katrina, and their continued devastation would worsen the impact of future storms. As our Torah teaches in Bereishit, humanity must be good stewards of the Earth God gave us.

Therefore, Be It Resolved that the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

1. Mourns the tragic loss of life, the displacement of persons, the destruction of family and community ties suffered by the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

2. Pledges continued solidarity with colleagues serving the New Orleans area, commending them on the Herculean efforts to serve their scattered congregations, while simultaneously facing enormous personal dislocations.

3. Acknowledges with gratitude the generous and welcoming role played by colleagues and congregations . especially in Baton Rouge, Houston, and Jackson, but also throughout the southeast, in Texas, and around the country — to reach out to evacuees, by opening their homes and facilities, and meeting the overwhelming economic, spiritual and emotional needs of displaced Gulf Coast residents.

4. Praises the Union for Reform Judaism, its President, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and all Rabbis and lay people in our Reform Movement who moved quickly and consistently to respond to Hurricane Katrina, and who have not permitted the needs of Katrina’s victims, and especially of New Orleans’ Reform Jewish community, to fade from concern, as months have passed since the storm.

5. Calls upon its members to visit New Orleans, and to establish, maintain, renew and strengthen relationships with colleagues serving the New Orleans area, so that these Rabbis, who will continue to serve in crisis conditions for some time, may never feel alone.

6. Asks its members to continue to donate and encourage others to contribute to URJ’s SOS fund.

7. Urges its members to advocate for maximum federal assistance to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast for all their citizens, keeping the issue at the forefront of issues addressed by the communities we serve and by the public officials with whom we have contact.

8. Calls upon the federal government to:

  • Provide funding to rebuild adequate housing for all New Orleans residents who wish to return.

  • Assure that Katrina victims, particularly the countless indigents among them, receive adequate health care and education, whether they return to the region or settle elsewhere.

  • Spare no expense or effort to build new levees that will withstand the greatest possible future threat of hurricanes in the area.

  • Restore Louisiana coastal wetlands.

  • Commit to a just rebuilding of New Orleans and the surrounding area for all of its people.