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New Reform Rabbi Helps Baton Rouge Rebuild By Cady Schulman cschulman@atljewishtimes.com For Rabbi Natan Trief, the devastation from floodwaters that hit the city of Baton Rouge in mid-August is hard to describe. Rabbi Trief, who spends two weeks a month in the Louisiana capital, said the area is a tale of two cities: The main roads appear as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened, but as you go farther into the city, the devastation is “mind-boggling.” Now the city’s residents are trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. Around 90,000 homes in southern Louisiana flooded after more than 30 inches of rain fell in some areas within a few days. “House after house vomited their possessions onto the curb,” the rabbi said. “It’s the same exact sight at every house. We ripped out all the Sheetrock and drywall since mold is a big danger. These relief efforts are going to last for months. We’ve dealt with many houses, but the majority of houses haven’t been addressed. Once mold sets in, it’s hard to get out.” Rabbi Trief said about 10 percent of the members of Baton Rouge’s Beth Shalom Synagogue, the Reform con-

Rabbi Natan Trief works with Nechama to clean up flood damage in Baton Rouge.

gregation where he has served as rabbi since Aug. 1, sustained significant damage to their homes, losing anything from 6 inches above the floor to the entire first floor. As a whole, he said, about 11 percent of the city’s Jewish community sustained damage. “One person had 5 feet of water come in,” Rabbi Trief said. “You could literally see the waterline when it receded. It reached the bottom of the kitchen cabinets. The hardest part for a new rabbi, apart from seeing the suffering and the devastation, is that so many Hebrew prayer books were destroyed. Obviously, that’s a small thing compared to the massive suffering, but it’s also significant.” Beth Shalom, which was damaged during Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago but was spared the flooding, has been set up as a base of operations. Congre-

gants have used the synagogue to cook meals for first responders and for people staying in shelters. It’s also being used as a drop-off point for donations. “The community has rallied together,” Rabbi Trief said. “It’s inspiring. The Jewish community is small but really strong. I think because religion plays such a large role in other groups, I think it influences the Jewish community as well. One good consequence is that it really brings people together.” When he’s not in Baton Rouge, Rabbi Trief is in Atlanta, where his wife, Samantha Shabman, is a new rabbi at Temple Sinai. They graduated from Hebrew Union College and were ordained in the spring. That connection between the cities has benefited the relief efforts in Baton Rouge. Temple Sinai has raised thousands of dollars in gift cards for those affected by the flooding, and over Labor Day weekend Sinai is sending a group of youths and adults to help with the cleanup. “Having my wife and the whole Temple Sinai community rallying around this has been fantastic,” Rabbi Trief said. “The Jewish community in Baton Rouge reaches out to Atlanta for

help and guidance. Obviously, other Jewish communities have faced this, most notably New Orleans, so they’ve been helping out as well.” Right now, donations of money and gift cards are the main ways people outside the area can help, he said. Tax-deductible donations may be made through the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Gift cards can be sent to Beth Shalom Synagogue, 9111 Jefferson Hwy., Baton Rouge, LA 70809. “I think we’re really worried about donor fatigue kicking in when the flood isn’t in the news any longer,” Rabbi Trief said. “We’re trying to lay the groundwork so people will” continue to donate. Those wanting to help with the cleanup can go through Minnesotabased Nechama (www.nechama.org), a volunteer organization that provides natural disaster preparedness, response and recovery services nationwide. Nechama arrived in Baton Rouge with a truck of building supplies and dozens of volunteers. They “have been like angels descending onto the community,” Rabbi Trief said. ■

The Packaged Good, Emanu-El Send Toiletries By Michael Jacobs mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

SEPTEMBER 2 ▪ 2016

Several Jewish organizations in Atlanta have responded to the disastrous flooding in southern Louisiana in August, from fundraising by synagogues and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta to the collection of gift cards and sending of a van of Neshama volunteers by Temple Sinai. Temple Emanu-El had a hands-on response, thanks to a new nonprofit launched by member Sally Mundell. The Packaged Good, where volunteers pack bags of goods and prepare personalized cards for people in need, welcomed about 100 Emanu-El members to create 500 packages of toiletries for flood victims Sunday, Aug. 21. Half the packages were shipped to the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans for distribution in the Baton Rouge area; the other half were carried to Louisiana by a relief group from Mormon Helping Hands, Mundell said. “I think all of us feel, when something tragic happens, we wonder how 14 we can help,” Mundell said. “We’re set


up to help.” The Packaged Good activated its pool of volunteers through email, social media, partners and friends, and Rabbi Spike Anderson at Emanu-El responded during the Friday night service Aug. 19, which he said had more children than usual because it was a prospective-member service and kindergartners through second-graders from the religious school participated. “We had an entire service where intertwined between the prayers were themes of water and how water could save but also could harm,” Rabbi Anderson said. During the service he told the story of an old man threatened by flood from a breaking dam. As a man of faith certain G-d will save him, he refuses three offers of help to escape, and he drowns, only to learn when he confronts G-d in heaven that those human offers were divine efforts to save him. “Oftentimes, help and salvation come through human intervention,” the rabbi said. “We can be the extension of G-d’s help and aid.” He thus urged congregants to volunteer at the

Packaged Good. “I love the Packaged Good,” he said. As a concept to bring families together to do good, “we couldn’t have come up with something better.” Disasters often leave people feeling helpless, but having the Packaged Good nearby makes it easier to decide how to respond, Rabbi Anderson said. “We’re very proud of her, of Sally, for doing this.” From her launch June 7 through Aug. 26, the Packaged Good prepared 3,400 care packages with the help of 16 charities and 600 people who visited the Dunwoody Village storefront, Mundell said. Her goal is 16,000 packages in the first year of operation. Whether more of them will go to Baton Rouge will depend on the feedback she gets from Louisiana about the needs there. To help meet its goals, the nonprofit shop is holding a fundraiser, Cocktails for a Cause, on Thursday, Sept. 15. The volunteers who will be there, she said, include 12-year-old Harrison Frank, an Emanu-El member and Davis Academy student, who is creating a

program for b’nai mitzvah students to work with the Packaged Good. Also attending will be Bahaumi Shah, 13, a budding videographer who is creating a series of videos for the Packaged Good, starting with one about the Louisiana effort. She also raised $1,364 for the nonprofit through efforts such as bake and garage sales. She’ll premiere the video and present the check at Cocktails for a Cause. The Packaged Good is working with several synagogues and with five nonprofits that support the ongoing needs of groups such as the homeless. Mundell’s operation is gearing up for a day of giving Nov. 13 to help the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. “We feel like it’s our responsibility to help people in need,” she said. “That’s what we’re all about.” ■ What: Cocktails for a Cause, featuring food and wine from restaurants Where: The Packaged Good, Dunwoody Village, 5517 ChambleeDunwoody Road, Dunwoody When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15 Admission: $30 donation; RSVP at www.thepackagedgood.org

Profile for Atlanta Jewish Times

Atlanta Jewish Times, Vol. XCI No. 34, September 2, 2016  

Atlanta Jewish Times, Vol. XCI No. 34, September 2, 2016