'Krewes' of Jews march on New Orleans

At this year's Mardi Gras, Jewish groups lampooned themselves and Hurricane Katrina.

mardi gras 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
mardi gras 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
With the waters parted, an ark rested once again on dry land. This time, though, it came dressed with a blue tarp and signs advertising home rebuilding services. The dry land in question was New Orleans on a chilly Feb. 11 night, and the ark was a float built by a Jewish crew of parade-goers. Hillel students took part in this year's Krewe du Vieux, the first parade of the Mardi Gras season. Two Jewish groups, Krewe du Jieux and Krewe du Mishigas, were involved - the latter of which paraded on a float called NOLA's Ark (New Orleans, LA). The Krewe du Vieux's overall theme was "C'est Levee," and the notoriously satirical sub-Krewes had no trouble skewering everything from Federal Emergency Management Agency to local, state and national politicians. Mayor Ray Nagin's "Chocolate City" comments - in which he expressed his desire to make New Orleans a "chocolate city" - were also a popular target. Not everyone agreed with the decision to hold Mardi Gras. In his monthly bulletin column, Temple Sinai Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn said Mardi Gras should have been canceled because "too little time has passed" since Hurricane Katrina and "suffering is still widespread and profound" in the area. "This is no year for Kings and Queens on papier-mache thrones," he added. Not surprisingly, Krewe members had a different view. For Katherine Kay, whose home was destroyed by the hurricane, being able to come to New Orleans on the weekends before the parade and be hosted by Krewe du Mishigas' captain, Joel Nitzkin, "made all the difference in the world." Noting that since the hurricane she has had "some extremely dark moments," Kay said that "Working on the float" and on the painted bagels "meant the world to me." Nitzkin, whose home was not damaged, hosted many Krewe members that came to town to help prepare for this year's event. Krewe du Jieux's captain, LJ Goldstein, said the crowds watching the parade were much larger than usual. "We needed it more, and this was the first parade," he explained. Krewe du Jieux began a decade ago as one of the sub-Krewes in the Krewe du Vieux parade. It sought to poke fun at Jewish stereotypes by making them so exaggerated and ridiculous that nobody could take them seriously, Goldstein said. The Krewe's royalty received the title "King of the Jieux" and "Jieuxish American Princess," complete with credit-card earrings to wear during the parade. This year, the Krewe split over creative control issues. Goldstein kept the Jieux name, while the Mishigas kept the float and the sub-Krewe marching slot in the parade. Without a place to march, the Jieux became the "Wandering Jieux" until it found a slot with the Krewe of KAOS, or the Kommittee for the Aggravation of Organized Society. The Jieux marched alongside them under the banner "Jieux Wander Into KAOS." As Mishigas members made their way through the streets, they passed out boarding passes for the ark, and their signature item - painted bagels. There were also NOLA's Ark medallions on strings of beads, created by this year's royalty. The Jieux passed out hurricane-proof yarmulkes - dust masks with a drawn Star of David. They also handed out matzahs that were painted blue, "Fiddler on the Blieux Roof Matz-O Shingles." Ironically, with the crush of the crowds along the parade route, some of the ark's siding was sheared off two-thirds of the way through the parade, looking almost as if it had been through a hurricane. (JTA)