Dec 8, 2008 — When 18 Wurzweiler School of Social Work students visited New Orleans in November to study the revitalization of its Jewish community after Hurricane Katrina, they took the time to remember some of the city’s other residents still in need of healing.
The trip was an opportunity to put into action the core Jewish communal values of tzedakah [righteous giving] and tikkun olam [repairing the world], which the students learn about in Wurzweiler’s Jewish Communal Service Certificate Program. Alongside meeting with officials from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans to learn how the Jewish community reorganized after the hurricane, the group spent a day doing community service with the St. John’s Baptist Church Social Ministry in the city’s desolate Seventh Ward.
The students—accompanied by Dr. Saul Andron, who heads the certificate program, and Lynn Levy, a professor in the program—toured the area with Pastor Bruce Davenport and his wife, Deborah. They split into three groups to visit homebound elderly, paint the outside of the pastor’s youth center and apply sheet rock to the pastor’s home.
“This experience not only informed me of the immense help still needed in rebuilding New Orleans, but also taught me a personal valuable lesson that there is so much to live for even in such a devastating situation,” student Gaby Abramson said in an entry on a blog that the students posted online.
Moved by their experiences, the group made a contribution to Pastor Davenport’s Camp ACE (Alert Community Empowerment), an early childhood and HIV prevention center.
During their visit, the Wurzweiler group studied the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans’s strategic plan to revitalize the community, attract new members and maintain ties with residents who have dispersed. They heard gripping first-hand accounts of the Katrina storm and its immediate aftermath from professional leaders of the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, the JCC and Hillel, and learned about these agencies’ mobilization to meet short-term needs and develop new service delivery strategies in place today.
The students also visited Kingsley House, directed by Keith Leiderman, a 1986 Wurzweiler graduate, the oldest settlement house in the Southern United States and one of the largest social service agencies in New Orleans.
“I was overwhelmed by the positive outlooks and the unwavering hope for the future of New Orleans,” said student Alana Getzler. “Each lecturer spoke about the resiliency of the New Orleans Jewish Community, the grand opportunity that comes with adversity and hardship, and introduced tangible plans to rebuild the city, as opposed to abstract notions.”
Professor Levy summed up the experience: “There is so much to do to heal a broken world, but I felt uplifted at the end of our time there, grateful that we had had an opportunity to give back to this community in tangible ways.”