How does a community start over? That’s the question many in the New Orleans Jewish community are asking as they work to grow their numbers in the post hurricane Katrina age. And those Jewish newcomers who are moving to New Orleans to help rebuild the city might be the answer.
In a recent article in the Times-Picayune, Bruce Nolan describes how the New Orleans Jewish community is throwing open the doors to its institutions, hoping to attract newcomers who have been drawn to the wounded region. The Jewish community has gone so far as to offer moving grants, one year of free membership to a synagogue, free memberships to the local Jewish Community Center, and even helped with social networking. It’s all part of what the New Orleans Jewish community calls their “newcomer program,” a year-old program designed specifically to make the Jewish community as accessible as possible to all those interested in joining.
Nolan tells the story of Katie Tutwiler, who was raised by an Episcopalian father and a non-observant Jewish mother in a home with “no strong religious influence.” She moved to New Orleans out of a moral imperative, not for the financial incentives that came with her being Jewish. But the actions of the Jewish community and their welcoming spirit have led her to help rebuild not only the city, but her own Jewish identity. Nolan writes:
“Tutwiler heard about the Jewish incentives program from her grandmother, Catherine Kahn, a New Orleanian and board member at Temple Sinai, who urged Tutwiler to check it out. Now Tutwiler sometimes accompanies her grandmother to temple, a starting point from which Tutwiler has begun to inquire about her Jewish heritage.”
Catherine, who is known to her friends as Cathy and sits on JOI’s President’s Advisory Board, Katie, and everyone else who is helping to strengthen the New Orleans Jewish community are taking great strides in Jewish outreach, and we are excited to see the community continue to grow. By utilizing methods that match many of the principles of our Big Tent Judaism initiative – such as lowering barriers to participation, offering free samples, and most importantly welcoming all newcomers – the “newcomer program” will hopefully attract more people like Tutwiler, and both New Orleans and their Jewish community will stand strong.