Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Orleans, Katrina +4

Today is an important date in the city of New Orleans. Four years ago today Katrina made landfall in New Orleans . The effects of that storm, combined with the structural failures that accompanied it, are sadly familiar to most news watching Americans. Colin and I were not here for Katrina, we were still living in Chicago at the time. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that we were not forced to evacuate, did not have our lives turned upside down and did not have to go through the many hardships that others were forced to endure. A curse in that we can never truly understand how hard that time was for this city and its residents, and that we were not witnesses to the destruction, the federal and local government failures, and the suffering that was experienced at this time four short years ago.

For me, the Katrina anniversary provides me with another chance to be grateful that I have been able to come to this amazing city. That New Orleans was still here for me to live in and to love. That in some small way my arrival here was helpful in allowing the preservation of a great American city.

Rabbi Cohn, the rabbi of our synogouge said it best when he noted that the residents of New Orleans post Katrina must be “the rebuilders of the ruins, the restorers of paths to dwell in.” (Isaiah 58:12) I like the King James version of this line even better, and think that New Orleanians are "... The repairer(s) of the breach..." or the ones who will fix our broken levee system and our ruined wetlands. This translation is particularly apt because most of the commentaries on this verse understand "breach" to be a breach of the covenant. To apply this to New Orleans, we (both the city and the rest of the country) have broken our promises to ourselves and each other to maintain a livable and safe city.

A visitor that came through the city this summer and stayed with us noted that New Orleans seemed to still be referencing the storm, or the flood, in every conversation. I think that the magnitude of destruction left a permanent watermark on this city, and that it will take many more years before Katrina does not hold a place of attention in our city's consciousness. However we see progress every day. In just the last two years, a huge number of stores and homes have been built where before there were only abandoned buildings. Colin and I constantly marvel at how much has been accomplished in the time we have been here. This is not to say that we have not also seen negligence and squandered chances. This city will never be the same as it was before Katrina, and we still have a long, long way to go before we are fully functional. But, I can see the promised land. If we are lucky, New Orleans will continue not just to exist, but to thrive.

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