OU’s Rabbi Weinreb Visits New Orleans as Isaac Approaches

29 Aug 2012


UPDATE: Rabbi Weinreb has been in touch with Rabbi Topolosky throughout the week, and has learned that there have been extensive power failures and some flooding, but nowhere near the damage of seven years ago. The new shul building itself suffered only minor damage and will function fully this Shabbat.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice-President, Emeritus, of the Orthodox Union, carries one of five Torah scrolls into the newly built sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Photo courtesy Alan Smason, Crescent City Jewish News

Since the flooding of levees following Hurricane Katrina seven years ago devastated OU member Congregation Beth Israel of New Orleans, the Orthodox Union has acted as a partner in rebuilding efforts in all areas of life.

Spearheading fundraising efforts and communal development during his time as OU Executive Vice President, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb – now OU Executive Vice President, Emeritus – brought the assistance of the OU full circle when he delivered the Keynote Address at the Chanukat HaBayit (dedication) of Beth Israel’s new building this weekend.

Rabbi Weinreb shared, “The celebration was beyond inspiring, particularly dancing in the procession with the five new sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), and marching with the children of the shul. Special recognition must be given to Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who received his rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva Chovevei Torah, and Rebbetzin Dahlia, who have done an amazing job in bringing a new spirit and many new members to the shul; and to the current president, Edward Gothard.”

Sunday’s events, including the hachnasat sifrei torah (dedication of Torah scrolls, as the old ones were ruined from the flooding and buried) and chanukat habayit, were attended by a large and diverse crowd which included the presence of numerous local officials, a U.S. Senator from the State of Louisiana and the State’s Jewish Lieutenant Governor.

Richard Stone, born and raised in New Orleans and former chairman of the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs | Jewish Political Affairs who currently serves as Chairman of Conference of Presidents, introduced Rabbi Weinreb at Sunday’s ceremony.

Rabbi Weinreb reflected, “I vividly remember the frightening pictures of the devastated shul and the ruined sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls). The Orthodox Union participated in the rebuilding of the shul from the outset, sending a representative to the burial of the sifrei Torah and meeting with the then-shul president Mrs. Jackie Gothard, eventually contributing to the fund raising effort.”

He continued, “The OU provided more than $400,000 of the funds raised for Beth Israel; in fact, we were the second largest contributor to the rebuilding fund. I’m very excited that the OU had such a role to play in it, and this is the fruit of our labor. The OU received a standing ovation, and we’re happy to have done it.”

Since Katrina, the OU has been at the forefront of providing crucial financial, spiritual and emotional support to help the New Orleans Jewish community get back on its feet.

Immediately following the hurricane, the OU, in partnership with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and Yeshiva University (YU), created the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, which raised more than one million dollars for the New Orleans Jewish community as well as the nearby communities that welcomed evacuees with open arms.

The OU also sent much-needed help directly to Beth Israel. With Yom Kippur rapidly approaching a few weeks after the hurricane, Beth Israel had no Torah scrolls, holy books or even a home for services. Together with Yeshiva University, the OU sent a rabbi and a delegation of college students to lead hastily organized services at a New Orleans airport hotel, along with a sefer Torah, machzorim (High Holy Day prayer books) and pre-and post-fast meals. For several months afterwards, the OU and YU continued to send volunteers to lead inspirational services at Beth Israel.

Once the rebuilding of New Orleans began, reinvigorating Jewish life in New Orleans became an OU priority. NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership, the OU’s international youth movement, has sent several delegations of teens to the city to help rebuild. New Jersey NCSY has consistently sent leadership students from public and yeshiva/day schools to help build and repair homes in New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity, and to volunteer with senior residence homes and the local Jewish day school.

As tropical storm Isaac directly threatened New Orleans exactly seven years after the traumatic experiences of Katrina, Rabbi Weinreb re-assured that “the OU would do everything in its power to support Beth Israel and its future.”

Rabbi Weinreb stated, “I felt privileged to deliver the concluding address at the dinner, in which I urged the congregation not to rest upon its laurels but to move forward toward even greater accomplishments, and promising that the Orthodox Union would help them in every way as they strive toward an even more magnificent future. Ironically, as we celebrated, another hurricane was bearing down upon New Orleans. We hope that no one will be harmed and that it will do no damage.”

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life