28 December 2005
Day Two in New Orleans (Thursday 22 December)
Thursday morning, Ben and I made it over to the Chabad House for Shaharis, where I got an aliyah for kohen and there was quite a nice spread of breakfast, though I limited myself to some scrambled eggs, OJ, a bagel with some cream cheese and a little lox. Fortunately, that breakfast kept me until lunchtime, when I didn't even feel hungry and had forgotten about lunch. Our second day of volunteering for the Jewish Federation (however, see their article that ignores our work for them(!) that came out two days ago) started out for us with worksite located out in Covington, LA, which also means nothing to me, as I was an out-of-towner. However, to get there, we had to cross Lake Pontchartrain, the largest inland estuary in the US (610 sq. mi.), via the The Causeway, which, at 23.9 miles, is the longest bridge in the world(!) (for more info on this bridge, see Metairie's website). One of the more remarkable things about this bridge is that one doesn't see land for a while - just water (one source says for eight miles along the bridge, one cannot see land at all(!)). So we got there and had two tasks to perform - one was to fix up a couple parts of a fence as well as to build a walkway, making it easier for an older relative of the houseowner upon which this person would be able to more easily perambulate. In order to take of the latter task, we had to saw up boards and then to hammer nails into them to get them into previously installed boards. For the former task, we had to not only remove the bad parts of the fence, but also install a metal support post before putting up some crossbeams and, of course, the fence boards, themselves. By around lunchtime, we got finished with sawing up some of the boards for the walkway and had removed the bad boards and begun to put up some of the crossboards as well as some of the boards, but had just poured some cement for the support post (guess who poured it?), so we had to wait 24 hours before using it again. So, we left to head back over the world's longest bridge to get to our next places of help and to eat lunch along the way (24 miles provides some good time to eat, unless you're the driver (which, along with Mike Schultz in the other car, I was). Mike's car went to a house near the bridge to remove a fence, in order to prepare it for the following day, when we would build a new one, while our car went to a house in a neighborhood where a breeched levee had spilt out its disgusting watery contents (not just water, some caustic substances as well). Our task was to remove heavy and bulky things out of this family's attic. Water had flooded over five feet for the whole neighborhood, so this family's house was no exception, as their house was pretty much totally flood-damaged and had only a one-story house. So, everything in their attic and on shelves in their garage (yes, ironically, the stuff they had put away because they didn't need it was the stuff that was unharmed and the stuff they did need was damaged/ruined) remained unharmed, while most of the stuff in the house was destined for the trash heap and the homeowner had decided that the house was pretty much destined to be destroyed. Since this family could deal with taking most of the stuff down from the attic, we were to remove this stuff. The husband/father of the family met us outside, dispensing fancy gasmasks to us (yay!) and we went in - although we had initially gone in without such apparati, and had been stunned by the horrible smell of mold. After we finished, we were speaking with the father/husband, when a guy with a camera drove up and said that he was doing a documentary (apparently, he said, for the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival) and inquired if he could do some interviewing, so a few of our guys (Maurice Appelbaum, Meir Rabkin, and Daniel Braune-Friedman) responded, so maybe there will be some Chovevei guys in a documentary sometime.... By the time we were finished, we davened מנחה (the afternoon prayer service), and made our way to my sister's apartment, where I was able to check my e-mail, and we chilled for a little bit, before heading back to Touro Hospital, to meet up with the other car to head to dinner. For dinner, we went to Creole Kosher Kitchen, which, for us, was the last of the three kosher restaurants we had visited in New Orleans. It is located in downtown New Orleans (between a Taco bell/KFC and an adult novelty store, go figure), where most of its business is tourists, which is great for travelers who either keep kosher or just would like to eat kosher. After enjoying a great meal (I had some spicy jumbalaya - really good), which my sister joined at the end, as one of her friends and her husband of three weeks was also in the restaurant with our group, and we were sitting around talking, Maurice saw that we had enough for a minyan for מעריב (evening prayer service), so we, along with the restaurant's owner, Gideon, davened (yes, all thirteen, except for maybe Bob, of us davened (okay, so my sister, her friend, and Mike's wife, Laura, were not part of the minyan, per se...). Afterwards, Gideon instructed us to sit down and brought out some scotch and some plastic cups. He poured some for everyone and would let no one not drink. He then began to tell of his woes of having started back up only three weeks prior and how he had very little business due to 99% of his business from tourists (when a lot of the Jewish community is gone, anyways, and no conventions, business is going to be hit badly(!)), and that our minyan would be the last in a long time as he had decided that he would be closing up shop for perhaps a year and starting up a new business out in LA (see the Jewish Journal's article on his family for more information on his devastation). He told of some stories about his restaurant, which had been in existence for five or six years, and how it will no longer be here, that it will lose out on its impact. He said it's more than just money - it's getting Jews to eat kosher (although this seems pointless, he told us of a story of a guy who had walked by the store a few times before coming in and ordering a wine and some food. When Gideon had asked this guy why he had walked by a few times before coming in, he said that he went to another restaurant and ordered a wine, but thought to himself that if he had no excuse of eating kosher, since it was there, so he paid for the wine, without drinking any and went to Gideon's. Again, nothing special, but the guy came to Gideon some time later and said, "Remember me?" Gideon said, "No." Apparently, this fellow had come to keeping kosher, etc. as he said he had no excuses to keep kosher, and to do those other Jewish things, either - a truly beautiful story (one which, someone had remarked to me later, that got Bob nodding his head...).). In sum, it was quite a heavy experience, but one that was incredible. We then went back to our respective places of sleeping and called it a night.
Posted by Drew Kaplan