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BOB ABERNETHY, host: Four years ago this weekend, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. In this neighborhood in New Orleans, Broadmoor, the houses were in 8 feet of water. Since then, thousands of young volunteers from all over the country, from many faith traditions, have gone to New Orleans to help with the clean-up and rebuilding. Many chose to move there. We talked with residents at the Jewish social service organization, Moishe House.
JONATHAN GRABOIES: Moishe House is a national organization. It says that the mission of the houses that they have throughout the world is “tikkun olam,” which is “repairing the world.”
JEFF PRUSSECK: That ties right in to the mission here in New Orleans, taking a city that has been faced with so many challenges and trying to, on every level of infrastructure and community development, to provide more structure to it.
GILL BENEDEK: The idea of giving back to a community, whether it be Jewish or the general community at large, was a very appealing idea.
JONATHAN GRABOIES: First, coming down, it was an absolute—it was wiped out. It looked like a bomb had gone off, and coming back in the six-month intervals you could really see the progression that was slowly happening, but with that time going by you could see progress.
I met Miss Della Mae when she came into Broadmoor looking for assistance with rebuilding her home. She’s an elderly woman, wheelchair-bound, been living in a trailer on her property for the better part of three years after Hurricane Katrina. So Miss Dell was someone we were thrilled to find the resources to help her.
DELLA MAE WITHERSPOON: Oh, they did a wonderful job. They did everything. They made me a brand new house!
JONATHAN GRABOIES: We’re already practicing tikkun olam in our day-to-day lives, so in a way we’re being Jewish even without being in the synagogue. Moishe House, in a sense, is sort of that alternative venue to come in and reengage with the community.
GILL BENEDEK: The Shabbat potluck, the Friday night dinner that we do once a month, is really very much the soul of our programming.
JONATHAN GRABOIES: It’s great to see everyone. We do this every month, and we start with some traditional prayers and a brief song. They join us for dinner, and we do the blessings. It’s sort of a great opportunity for everyone to take a moment and spend time with their friends.
What I hope Moishe House brings to New Orleans is a comfortable, open community based on Jewish values, culture, religion that is accessible to everyone.