About 12 hours after Hurricane Ida left New Orleans, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries to Metairie, La., were welcoming people in the neighborhood to the Chabad center for a barbecue dinner.

“We had to empty our freezers because there is no power and just made this barbecue,” said Rabbi Yossie Nemes, co-director with his wife, Chana, of the Chabad Center of Metairie, explaining that the freezers were filled with meats, chicken and more in advance of the many community meals they would host during upcoming holidays. “It was very impromptu. We put out a notice on some groups and many people came.”

Nemes said they also gave away food, putting what they could in coolers to help it last longer. Just as important, it was an opportunity to be with neighbors and friends during an extraordinarily stressful time and share with them the principles of positive vision and action emphasized by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—during even the most difficult of circumstances.

And difficult times are continuing for those in Ida’s path. More than a million people remain without electricity—no air-conditioning, no lights—and in many instances, no fresh water as temperatures soar with heat indexes over 100 degrees three days after the Category 4 hurricane hit Louisiana. Complicating the situation on the ground are cases of Covid, which were high even before the hurricane. At least two people were killed—a number that officials expect to rise as they reach the most heavily damaged regions in southern Louisiana and many others injured in the storm.

Throughout Louisiana and southern Mississippi, the Chabad emissaries—there are about a dozen in the region—have been working the phones, calling, texting and emailing to see how they can be of help.

Services were held outdoors in New Orleans, where Rabbi Mendel Rivkin blew the shofar as is customary in the month before Rosh Hashanah.
Services were held outdoors in New Orleans, where Rabbi Mendel Rivkin blew the shofar as is customary in the month before Rosh Hashanah.

In one case, Chana Nemes was in contact with an older couple who needed to be evacuated. She arranged for them to be reunited with family members who live out of town.

“We drove them to a hotel two hours away, where their family picked them up,” the rabbi told Chabad.org. Other emissaries and volunteers are going around checking in on people who remain at home.

At the Chabad of New Orleans, a couple visiting from out of town was stranded by the storm and stopped by the Chabad House as a minyan was being held outside, according to Rabbi Mendel Rivkin. “We arranged to get them a ride to Gulfport, Miss., where they were able to catch a flight home.”

“We are very active on the ground right now. We are in touch with hundreds of people. Some just want to be connected, some just want resources that we give them,” the rabbi said. “There is a long-term picture; it’s not just about the immediate aftermath, but how people can be helped going forward.

“For example, some people have damage to their homes, and while they may have insurance, it’s not always perfect. Others have lost their food and will have to throw out their appliances because of food spoilage, while others may be displaced for a longer period of time,” he explained.

Chabad of Baton Rouge and Metairie are expected to offer Rosh Hashanah services; Baton Rouge has electricity, and Metairie will run on generator power if need be. That is not an option in New Orleans proper.
Chabad of Baton Rouge and Metairie are expected to offer Rosh Hashanah services; Baton Rouge has electricity, and Metairie will run on generator power if need be. That is not an option in New Orleans proper.

Making Plans for the High Holidays

In addition to all of this, the emissaries are trying to make plans for the High Holidays. They are working to connect people who have evacuated with resources where they are staying temporarily, and are trying to coordinate meals for people who remain in Louisiana.

According to Rivkin, both Chabad of Baton Rouge and Metairie are expected to offer Rosh Hashanah services; Baton Rouge has electricity, and Metairie will run on generator power if need be. However, that is not an option in New Orleans proper, which leaves Rivkin in limbo about whether he will hold services there or not.

Also unknown is when school will reopen at the Slater Torah Academy, which suffered some damage to the roof, and also to the playground and fence. It is closed at least through Rosh Hashanah.

This work is happening even as some of the emissaries have some roof and property issues themselves.

As Nemes said in a video that he posted online the day after Hurricane Ida “This is Chabad. There’s no bluff. It’s not about PR; it’s about people helping people on the ground.” He also urged people to WhatsApp or text him directly if they need assistance, relaying his cell number for anyone who needs it.

Added Rivkin, “There is just a lot of kindness going on right now.”

To assist in the recovery efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi, click here.