[Archived from April 3, 2009]
[by Adam Rowe]
On Sunday March 15, almost 600 young adults from all over the United States gathered for a three-day United Jewish Communities Young Adult Convention in New Orleans, LA. I was fortunate to have Courtney Hughes along with me as we represented Louisville. Though we may have only been a delegation of two, cities like Cincinnati brought 28 young adults and Philadelphia had 65.
The convention body had the opportunity to view the destruction that still remains after Hurricane Katrina and to assist in repairing some of the devastated areas.
The convention wasn’t all work and no play. Everyone had a great time seeing some of the Mardi Gras floats and visiting the World War II museum, for example.
As I sat at the closing ceremony listening to Orthodox Rabbi Uri Topolosky discuss the work that the convention body performed the day before at a community service project, I was touched by the biblical reference he used. He discussed the interaction between Cain and God after Cain had slain his brother hours ago.
God has asked Cain where his brother was. Cain responded “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God never responded to Cain’s response. Rabbi Topolosky taught the audience that numerous rabbis have reviewed this text to believe that God’s answer was in his silence. God’s silence has been interpreted to mean you are responsible for your brother because you share his blood.
Rabbi Topolosky then made the connection that there is no doubt that every person should be compelled to assist New Orleans. The Jewish faith, in particular, teaches every man, woman and child to be compelled to repair the world.
New Orleans remains desperately in need of repair, as we saw on our tour of one of the more devastated areas. Courtney said, “Our tour of the lower ninth ward was quite emotional. There were plots of land where houses once stood, but now only the driveways remain.
“To see the remains of the first responder’s notations made in spray paint on the exterior of the homes left standing was heartbreaking;” she continued, “these messages noted if any people were found inside, as well as animals. It breaks my heart to imagine someone’s mother or grandfather, someone’s dog or cat, stuck inside their home, trying to remain above the flood waters. This shouldn’t have happened; it’s a disgrace the levees broke.”
Today, the lower ninth ward does not have a grocery store or hospital within 15 miles.
Courtney added, “On the service project at Archbishop Hannan High School, I worked with a team from San Diego. They made me feel welcome, and we all worked well together. I feel honored to have been a part of the reconstruction of such an amazing city!”
But there is still a lot of work to do. We both hope to have the good fortune to return to New Orleans to finish what I began.
Working side by side with Jews from all over the nation helped redefine the term tikkun olam for me. From a young age, I had learned that the term translated to mean repairing the world, but it was not until I was able to see young Jewish adults working to build picnic tables, benches, landscape, dig a trench for a sand volleyball court, and rebuild the entrance gate to the Archbishop Hannan High School in a single day did tikkun olam move off of a page in a book and into reality.
Courtney and I are extremely thankful to every convention participant who decided to invest their time and effort to attend the convention. In addition, we are grateful to the Louisville Jewish Federation for subsidizing our trip.