Some 25 Torah scrolls in the New Orleans area, jeopardized by Hurricane Katrina, were rescued by a number of Jewish groups acting in concert. A makeshift coalition of representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, national leadership from the Reform movement, rabbis from Baton Rouge and New Orleans and local law-enforcement officials were responsible for the effort.
"Among the 25 we saved were also a few that were rescued from the Holocaust, and here they've survived a second horrific disaster," said Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement s Washington-based Religious Action Center.
Chabad officials, working with both Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers, rescued at least 15 additional scrolls. "It is a bittersweet occasion," said Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, the executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Louisiana. "Hurricane Katrina has destroyed our homes, synagogues and our city but has not destroyed our community."
Among the sites that had Torahs rescued were Chabad of Louisiana's New Orleans headquarters, the Chabad Jewish Center in Metairie, the Touro Synagogue, Temple Sinai, and the Federation building, which had housed Torahs belonging to Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation and the New Orleans Jewish Day School.
Rabbi Saperstein noted that the rescued Torahs were sent to cities like Houston, Baton Rouge and Memphis to be with their respective displaced congregations.
Among the scrolls that remain in New Orleans are Torahs from Congregation Gates of Prayer, which, according to Rabbi Robert Loewy, were taken to a high-rise office building downtown before the evacuation.