(The Rivkins are the Directors of Chabad at Tulane University in New Orleans)
Here is what has been going on as of late.
On Sunday night, we managed to insert a rescue team into our area of New Orleans, so that we could get to all the people we know that are still stuck in there. A problem that they encounter is that people sometimes don't want to leave. They feel that they survived the storm and survived the flood, so they may as well stick it out. They don't understand the health hazards in the city right now. Many need to be visited time after time, by different rescuers, before they are convinced to depart.
Another problem is communication. Cell phones still can't receive calls in the area most of the time, so we have to wait until the team calls us, and we can get them information about the whereabouts of the people.
Here is a heart-wrenching story. We received a web request to rescue a woman who was in the area, with an 11 year old daughter. With the team facing curfew, we decided to prioritize that mission, because of the child involved. But when the team arrived, the woman refused to leave, because she was missing a three year old son, and was still hoping to find him...
These are the tragedies we are confronting in the aftermath of Katrina. One can weep endlessly, but there is lots of work to be done…
Update By Sarah Rivkin.
After hours spent in front of the computer, glued to the news, the updates, the pictures of our hometown, I am quite numbed by the cruel reality.
After days spent in friend’s homes, connected by phone calls and emails to our neighbors, friends, family, and concerned people, I am quite melted by their kindness and sensitivity.
I guess those more seasoned by life than I, will recognize that pattern. There is light in the dark; there is hope in the despair. There are so many things these days that can bring tears to my eyes. And most of them are familiar questions.
Why did this have to happen?
So many good things were happening in the city...
So many good people built lives in this city...
So many innocent people...
But I also have learned lessons in these past few days, that I hope will forever remain fresh in my mind. I have learned that while we spend many hours accumulating material possessions, and while we even let ourselves be defined by what we own, those are all layers. And that even when they all get stripped away, painful as that may be, we can still exist and continue on. Because it is what we do for others, what we create between people, that no flood can wash away.
I have also learned the power of generous spirits. The Goldmans, Chabad representatives in Gainesville Florida at the University of Florida, who opened their home and office, and put all their resources and attention at our disposal, probably do not even realize that they have provided me with an experience that will be life-altering. Now that I have seen first hand what it means to put ones self aside, to inconvenience oneself, and not even mind, because one has the other person’s welfare first in one's mind... there is such power in these actions and much hope for a world that can contain people like this.
The Oirechmans, Chabad representatives from Tallahassee, Florida, as well as the Lipskers, Chabad ambassadors at Emory in Atlanta, have also welcomed us into our homes with such generosity and friendship that I am having a hard time feeling sorry for myself. I know that communities all over have opened their homes, purses, freed their schedules, and put their daily life on hold to acknowledge and help in this time of crisis. I feel that every friend and family member who takes a moment to call or email is taking a moment out of their daily schedule to acknowledge us in our trying times and incredibly enough that gives me the strength and energy to look hopefully onto a bigger and better future.
This past Friday night we were supposed to kick off our Chabad student program at Tulane with a grand Mardi Gras Shabbat dinner – but my hands have been unexpectedly idle...
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