It's hard to explain, but surviving the hurricane in New Orleans was an experience I feel blessed to have had. Not to say that a part of me doesn't wish that I hadn't been there. Or that at least I'd been able to save my valuables. But ultimately, what I gained from the tragedy—emotionally, intellectually and spiritually—far outweighs what I lost materially.

And materially, I lost almost everything I had; everything, with the exception of my computer and the bag of clothes that I took. But the truth is that I didn't have much in the way of material goods. Besides my bed, my dresser, my bicycle and a few outfits, I really didn't have much else. No microwave, no television, nothing with any real value to the average person.

What I gained from the tragedy far outweighs what I lost

But then again, it is all relative. Because my material possessions meant a lot to me, even if they didn't have much monetary value. Of highest value were the boxes of tubes and tubs, scrapers, cameras and paper. You see, I am an artist, and all of my artwork—my paintings, my sketches and my photographs—were in the house with me. These were priceless.

But life itself, breath, cannot be bought. I was one of the fortunate ones. I am well aware that without the help of others, it could have been much worse.

I had only been living in New Orleans for about a year. I was renting a small house in a pretty run-down section of town, right outside the French Quarter. New Orleans is full of historical houses. They never tear them down completely, just strip them to the skeleton and fix them up. Many homes have a vibrant character, rich with authenticity. But when a natural disaster hits, they are not prepared to withstand the fury of a storm.

So there I was the morning of the hurricane in a house with "character." I didn't really have any friends in the immediate vicinity, and I didn't have a car. I had always been able to get around just fine with my bicycle, but then again, I never needed to outride an impending hurricane.

I had not really thought about evacuating. The obvious question, of course, is "why not?" I'll be honest, I hadn't been following the news. I'm a minimalist. I don't have a television and I don't pay for a phone-line or an internet connection in the house. The papers I have delivered are Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. I wasn't too up to date with the hurricane or Louisiana.

I figured out that this was something serious when friends and family started calling at 8:00 am on a Sunday morning from New York. I had virtually left myself no options to evacuate, except by joining another family.

I had been invited to the home of Rabbi Yossi and Chani Nemes for Shabbat, two nights before the storm. I had never been there before. In the New Orleans area there are two Chabad houses: the Uptown Chabad run by Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, which is a seven mile bike ride from my home, where I daven; and the Metarie Chabad, run by Rabbi Nemes, which is a 20 minute drive away. That Shabbat I had gotten a ride out to the Metarie Chabad and had a beautiful and inspirational time at the Nemes's home.

When we turned on the radio after Shabbat, on Saturday night, the warnings of the impending hurricane were even stronger, and the Nemes's urged me to stay with them. But, being the independent-minded person that I am, I returned home alone. I didn't realize just how serious the threats really were.

Sunday morning, as the skies turned grey and the wind began to hiss, I realized it was time to get out. To make a long story short, I got to the Nemes home by 1:00 pm. They were still packing up. In the end, we didn't have time to evacuate. We probably should have, but we didn't. We had absolutely no idea what we were in for.

Since the hurricane, people have asked me if I was scared. Maybe I should have been, but I wasn't. I just felt protected and secure. It obviously helped that we were in a brick home with closed steel hurricane shutters, but I think more than that, it was the sense that we were a unit, we were a family.

There were thirteen of us in the house, seven of whom were children. There was something about the immense love that permeated the home that made it hard to believe that outside those walls, the foundation of everything around us was being ripped to shreds.

There were thirteen of us including seven children and as decisions had to be made, we made them together.

Throughout the storm we prayed, we laughed, we played games, we told stories. There was no hierarchy, we were all involved and everyone had an opinion. What impressed me the most was the resourcefulness and care with which the Nemes's provided for everyone's needs. It wasn't just that there was plenty of food and water, which we were very blessed to have had. What was most impressive was that, as news reports came in and decisions had to be made, we made them together. We were all part of the solution. Even the kids. Every voice counted.

You would expect that with so many people cramped in such tight quarters, during an extremely stressful and frantic time, that there would be bickering. But there was nothing of the sort. Any time someone became depressed or worried, one of us would reassure the person and make whoever it was feel better. It was as if we took turns being the one who was scared and then being the one who was comforting. The fact that we were able to switch roles and be both giver and receiver was a great balance. It was amazing to be a part of it.

As relatively safe as we were, we knew there were others that were not. We knew there were endless people who didn't make it out in time, and who weren't sitting in brick homes with steel shutters. The only thing we could do for them was pray. So we did. Every single person in that house, the children included, recited Tehillim (Psalms). We prayed together. The prayer in that home was filled meaning, intensity or focus.

In the end, we spent three long days and nights in the Nemes home. But during that time we created a bond that will last a lifetime. As thrilled as I was to finally leave, I must admit that part of me was sad. There was something beautiful and powerful about the relationships created. I knew when we left the house it would never be the same again.

And the resourcefulness that the Nemes' had didn't stop when we left. One of the most beautiful images in my memory is of Chani with the children gathered around her. We were stuck in an endless line for gasoline in Mississippi. After moving the van I turned around to see Chani barbequing a full meal. There she was, in the middle of a parking lot, with a small grill and some of the meat we had taken with us, cooking a real meal! It was not just that she was feeding our bodies, but the kind of lesson that fed our minds and souls even more.

She also amazed me in how she kept a routine for everyone throughout the whole ordeal. Even while we sat in the car, there was a time and place for everything. She came up with something to keep the kids busy and occupied with. And as long as we were active, we simply had no time to fully recognize the gravity of the situation.

For three days I had been forced to focus on the simple activity of staying alive

I don't think it was until I entered the airport in Memphis, Tenn. to fly to Virginia that the intensity of everything hit me. As I checked in my two bags I started to fall apart. Right there and then I just started crying hysterically and shaking. It appeared that I was crying over the bags. But, knowing what we had endured, and knowing what so many others were suffering, was alive inside of me, and too much to bear. I somehow felt that leaving was almost like abandoning the situation. I was not crying for myself. If anything, I was crying for everyone but myself.

A part of me was scared as I detached and removed physically from what was happening. And I didn't want to be. I wanted it to stay real and I wanted to stay aware. For three days I had been forced to focus on the simple activities of staying alive. The moment our small world ended, my life began again: its meaning, direction and purpose. I was faced with my life. It is not every day that you really look at your life in such a way. It is a deep, moving and a very powerful experience. Simultaneously, it made me appreciate everything that I had and everything I didn't have.

So when I left that day, I left behind a lot, and a lot more than just what I owned. Did I lose things? Definitely. Were they replaceable? No. Yet the fact that I am still here means that I can create anew, I can begin again. And what better time for a new start than right before Rosh Hashanah? If I believe that I survived for a reason, then I also have to believe that I lost my possessions for a reason.

And though I really don't have a home of my own right now, I know that I will make it through. I will make it because I have people who love me and care about me, and if need be, will care for me. I will make it because I am stronger for what I endured and have a desire to come out of this a better person. And I will make it because there is no other option. If I am left with nothing, I must create the something that I want. I know that my life and art will reflect what I learned and gained through this tragedy. Faith, love and unity is the foundation to everything we have. I do know one thing: I am thankful for everything I have, for every moment and for every experience. I am in time with life and in being in time, know Divine Providence first hand, thus I can continue to love G‑d deeply through my own experience.

The painting Elanit did for this article was the first thing she painted after losing all her artwork and possessions in the hurricane. This piece represents rebuilding out of destruction.