Giving Compass' Take:

• The Jewish community in New Orleans shares lessons from their successful response to Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago, with the hope that these learnings can help inform today's response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

• How can philanthropists take these lessons into account? What is the most pressing need for communities tackling COVID-19 challenges?

• Read about lessons funders have learned so far in responding to the pandemic. 

In the face of current challenges, American Jews can look back at an unusually successful response to Katrina fifteen years ago.  As the hugely inequitable impact of the storm upon New Orleans’ Black and other marginalized populations was emerging, most, though not all, of the city’s Jews were able to get safely out of the city. Still, these Katrina refugees faced intense challenges of displacement, lack of access to resources, and endless unknowns as homes and businesses were being destroyed. This is where, at a time of general disfunction, the history, organization, and the network of Jewish community made a difference to thousands of Gulf South Jews and many of their neighbors. These same resources may likewise provide strength in responding to the crises of 2020.

Even though the loss of life and scale of societal damage of COVID-19 dwarfs the profound regional destruction of Katrina, there may yet be important lessons embedded in the Jewish community’s clear-minded response to the overwhelming challenges of that moment:

  • History matters. While carefully distinguishing their own experiences from the ordeals of Jewish history, many Jewish Katrina refugees found meaning in narratives of displacement, diaspora, suffering, and survival.
  • Mainstream institutions do make a difference. When Katrina hit, Jewish communal agencies raised tens of millions of dollars through grass-roots fundraising, connected individuals to resources, and reminded Katrina evacuees that they were not alone.
  • “We are in this together.” Before the storm, many New Orleans Jews considered the city’s Orthodox an afterthought. After the storm’s destruction of the city’s main Orthodox synagogue, a transformed understanding of communal interdependence took hold.
  • Put your own mask on first. This airline precaution speaks directly to the COVID-19 crisis, highlighting that sometimes the best way to be in a position to help others is to take care of yourself.

Read the full article about lessons from Hurricane Katrina by  Karla Goldman at eJewish Philanthropy.