The approach of Hurricane Isaac on New Orleans has brought back memories of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which swept the Gulf coast seven years ago this week. One story of rebirth in the hurricane's wake is about Congregation Beth Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in the city, whose Torah scrolls disappeared under 10 feet of water and was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.
Support for the Orthodox synagogue came from what some might call an unexpected place: a Reform temple, Gates of Prayer, in nearby Metairie. The temple took Beth Israel in, gave its members a chapel to pray in and leased it office space so the activities of Beth Israel could go on.
While the Jewish community around the country helped Beth Israel and the New Orleans area recover from Katrina, it is the relationship between these two congregations that stood out this week. On Sunday, Beth Israel dedicated its new building, which stands next door to Gates of Prayer. In addition to the shared playground between the two synagogues, there is a sense of community, of brotherhood and of common purpose between these two religious institutions.The shared space and neighboring buildings are a reminder, said Beth Israel's rabbi, and Silver Spring native, Uri Topolosky, "that at the end of the day ... we are one Jewish family."
As we commemorate the seven year anniversary of Katrina, and as we approach the High Holy Days, the lesson of interdependence and the spirit of religious cooperation between Temple Gates of Prayer and Congregation Beth Israel should inspire us in our efforts to build a stronger, more responsive and more caring Jewish community. Because, to paraphrase Rabbi Topolosky, our Jewish family works best when it works together.