by Adam Orlansky
As the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding is upon us, it is appropriate to acknowledge and remember the role that Jacobs Camp and the URJ played during those difficult times.
Jacobs Camp served as a refuge for approximately 250 evacuees from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area.
Our Camp Director at the time, Jonathan “J.C.” Cohen, and his staff (including Assistant Director Abram Orlansky who had started the job just weeks before the storm) jumped into action and spearheaded the Camp’s relief efforts through service as an evacuation shelter and as a collection and distribution center. Under the banner of “Jacobs Ladder”, Jacobs Camp collected and redistributed two tons of relief supplies to many of our affected citizens across the Gulf Coast. We are proud of the role Jacobs Camp was able to play during those challenging times.
As a New Orleanian, of course, I have my own personal and family memories associated with late August 2005. I remember August 27, 2005 like it was yesterday, and I am sure that I always will. The only typical aspect of this August morning in New Orleans was the heat and humidity. I can still feel the mugginess from that day, as I stood outside of Touro Synagogue on St. Charles Avenue with my family, wearing a suit and tie, taking pictures moments before I was called to the Bimah for my Bar Mitzvah. Most New Orleanians were busy making their evacuation plans, but as a 13 – year old Bar Mitzvah boy nervous about reading my Torah Portion, I was not focused on the weather, and it surely did not occur to me that the coming days would forever change my beloved city and the course of our lives.
Throughout the week, I had heard talk about a Hurricane passing through Florida and re-forming in the Gulf of Mexico, but it wasn’t until after the Saturday Morning Service that I learned the potential of the storm for our area. My parents came up to me after the service, gave me a hug and a kiss and said, “Adam, we are so proud of you. The hurricane is heading our way, and people are starting to evacuate today. We didn’t want to tell you before the service because we didn’t want you to be upset. We are going to try our best to have the party tonight, but we just don’t know right now.”
Family and camp friends from all over the country who came to join me in this special weekend were forced to quickly figure out how to get home. Some of them left immediately following the service, while some stayed until that evening to attend my Bar Mitzvah party, which ended within 12 hours of our Mayor declaring a mandatory evacuation. As for my family, we returned home after the party, packed our bags, and headed to Baton Rouge at approximately 2:00 AM on Sunday, August 28, for what we thought would be a 2-3 night stay with our family, Linda, Mark, Joshua, Aaron, and Rachel Posner.
It was not until the heartbreaking news that levee breaches on August 29 had put our city underwater that we realized our situation and that of our fellow New Orleanians: we did not know when, if ever, we would return home. I enrolled in school (7th grade) in Baton Rouge, and my sister Shana (high school senior) went to Jackson to live and go to school with her long-time Jacobs Camp friend Annie Jacobson. The following week, my father and uncle drove down to New Orleans and entered our Lakewood South neighborhood on a boat to find that 6 feet of water had flooded the entire downstairs of our house. We were not going home any time soon.
The Posners took us in and gave my family a much needed home for four months, just as Jacobs Camp and other members of our community did for so many others in the same difficult situation.
Ten years later, as a college graduate and no longer that 13-year old Bar Mitzvah boy, I am grateful for the opportunity to work for an organization that epitomizes what it means to serve a community. Through times of triumph and times of tragedy, Jacobs Camp has made and continues to make our community a better place.