Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in New Orleans
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Today is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. Jewish residents of New Orleans have been observing the holiday in Baton Rouge, Houston, Atlanta and other evacuation sites. But at one flood-damaged synagogue in suburban New Orleans, a few dozen members of local congregations came together to celebrate the annual rituals of renewal. NPR's Ina Jaffe was there.
INA JAFFE reporting:
The service last night was the first at synagogue Shir Chadash since the hurricane, and walking through the building, the evidence of the flood was easy to see. The water was once at least a foot deep here. The drywall closest to the floor has been removed, along with all the carpeting, but above the water line it looks none the worse for wear. Really, it's nothing compared to what members of this community have seen elsewhere, said Sam Seleg(ph).
Mr. SAM SELEG: It's enough to cause enough grief and aggravation, but it ain't going to stop us.
JAFFE: Actually, it took a certain amount of will to organize this service. The congregation's Torah scrolls had been removed before Katrina for safekeeping, so they're borrowing a Torah from another synagogue down the road that hasn't reopened yet. And the rabbi and cantor are still in Houston, officiating at the larger service for congregation members who haven't yet returned home. Rosh Hashanah services at Shir Chadash are being led by rabbinical student Ann Brynner(ph), who lives in Los Angeles.
Ms. ANN BRYNNER: I met someone who knew the current rabbi here, and she gave me his e-mail address. And I explained my connection to this synagogue; that my father was a member and was very involved. He built that Sukkot right there, and he used to read Jonah on Yom Kippur, which is a great honor. And, anyway, so he said, `Oh, could you lead Rosh Hashanah services?' This is three days ago.
JAFFE: Adding to Ann Brynner's worries, she's never led a High Holiday service without a cantor. And Shir Chadash is part of the conservative branch of Judaism, while she's affiliated with the more liberal Reform movement. But as this congregation comes together after so much trauma and loss, she's confident about the message she wants to convey.
Ms. BRYNNER: Historically, what Jews have learned is that community is the healer. And we have the opportunity to come together as a community, look in each other's eyes and recognize that we may have lost material things, we may have lost all kinds of things, but we know that what matters is the spiritual. And spirituality is held in community, so when the community is able to be together, we have a sense that healing is possible.
JAFFE: And this was a congregation in need of healing.
(Soundbite of Jewish service)
JAFFE: The singing was weary and a bit ragged. This might be expected from people who'd spent recent days picking through what was left of their belongings. And this being a conservative synagogue, no organ or piano or guitar was allowed to carry the congregation along. But Eddie Gotherd(ph) and his friend Myron Goldberg(ph), both visitors from the nearby Beth Israel congregation, said the experience was a welcome break from what they've been dealing with lately.
Unidentified Man #1: Flooded house, our synagogue was destroyed completely. My business got a little damaged, but we're better than many of us.
Unidentified Man #2: My house had six or seven feet of water, and my business was 80 percent looted.
JAFFE: So the New Year comes as something of a relief. `It's got to get better,' both men said. `It's got to get better.' Ina Jaffe, NPR News, New Orleans.
NORRIS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.