The Jerusalem Post has a revealing article on Jewish rescue and relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina. As you read the piece, keep the following points in mind:
- All national Jewish fundraising efforts for Hurricane Katrina except those made by Orthodox groups have been clear in their intent and are transparent in accounting.
- Orthodox groups primarily raised funds to help Jews only.
- Chabad raised money on the premise of helping all victims of Katrina, Jewish or not. But as we have clearly shown, Chabad's efforts have been sectarian, geared toward Jews only.
- In this article, Rabbi Cunin claims Chabad is helping everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, and plans to raise money through his national telethon to continue fund this (nonexistent) effort.
- Chabad was not the only Jewish group who tried to rescue Jews. This article notes that the Baton Rouge Jewish Federation funded an effort to save 50 elderly Jews. But the Baton Rouge Federation did not raise money under the pretext of helping everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike. Chabad did.
- This quote from Rabbi Cunin sums up Chabad's attitude: "The Torah places squarely on our shoulders the responsibility to be there for all God's children. We take that very seriously," he said. "When someone knocks on your door and asks for your help, you don't ask what their faith is. The fact of the matter is, we're all human beings." In other words, If non-Jews come to us and ask for help we will help them, but our proactive efforts, the main thrust of our efforts and our first mission is to help Jews. We always help Jews first. This is not nonsectarian relief. Chabad has committed fraud.
Sam Ser writes:
Intolerable delays. Indelicate missteps. Apathy.
None of these things, for which American authorities are now being heavily criticized, can be found in the American Jewish response to Hurricane Katrina.
Take as an example the experience of Rabbi Barry Gelman of the United Orthodox Synagogues in Houston. When he arrived at the Astrodome shortly after thousands of New Orleans evacuees were bused there, Gelman found chaos and confusion. But not where Jewish victims were concerned.
"I realized that Jews who found themselves in shelters could simply open a phone book and find a synagogue, or a Jewish federation, and get picked up immediately. They didn't have to spend one hour in a place like that. I feel so fortunate to be part of a community that responds like that," he said.
There was no hesitation on the part of the Houston Jewish community, and no procedural hang-up to slow its effort, Gelman said.
"Right after it became clear that the population of New Orleans was not going to get back there anytime soon, our community developed a task force to deal with the evacuees," he explained. "We're providing transportation to those who need it, mental health workers, nurses and doctors, pharmacists, etc. Our day schools and after-school care are open and there is Shabbat hospitality, even preparations for the High Holy Days."
At synagogues and Jewish communal organizations across the country, Jews mobilized immediately to help the Jews of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who found themselves suddenly homeless, jobless and all but hopeless. There were no tales of Jews waiting a week on a bridge for shelter, food, water or clothing – partly because host families were found for them almost overnight.
The response in the early days of the disaster was so involved, in fact, that it was even possible to see it in a negative light, to think that Jews were only interested in helping Jews. One particular incident revealed just that concern.
A few days after the flooding, some 30 Baton Rouge policemen and volunteers headed down to New Orleans armed with guns, bulletproof vests, flat-bottom boats, a doctor, a global positioning system – and a list of the addresses of 50 elderly Jews, supplied by a Baton Rouge businessman and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, whom the men were sent to rescue.
"For some reason, they're putting their energy and resources into saving a small group of Jewish people trapped in [New Orleans] when their own city is teeming with refugees," Adam Bronstone, director of community relations for the New Orleans federation, told The Advocate, a Baton Rouge newspaper. "I can't fathom that; I can't explain it."
While the story was mostly positive, it also highlighted Jewish charity as being directed first and foremost to Jews, who were, after all, only a tiny percentage of those affected by the hurricane.
"It is natural that we take care of our own first," said Harry Silverman, the southeast regional director for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. "It is also a natural thing for somebody in distress to turn first to his own religious institution for help." He noted that churches have also mobilized to help Christians.
"I'm sure, though, that if non-Jews were to turn to Jewish institutions for assistance, they wouldn't be turned away," Silverman said.
The truth is that, on the whole, Jewish relief efforts have not been limited to helping only Jews.
"There's no thought about ethnicity in the Jewish response to this crisis," said Kenneth Bandler, director of communications for the American Jewish Committee. "People are not contributing to the AJC fund with the hope that [the proceeds] are only going toward helping Jews. They know every dollar is going to those who need it."
The United Jewish Communities has also raised several million dollars to help all the victims of the disaster. The staple foods and household supplies that the MAZON food bank in Dallas is providing are going almost entirely to non-Jews. From as far away as New York, Jewish volunteers have gone to New Orleans to help victims of all colors. And the list goes on.
Jewish help is reaching those in need without getting bogged down in the bureaucracy that has slowed the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and others.
"We have chutzpah, and we're putting it to good use now," said Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch. "People who want to contribute and people from other organizations are calling us and saying, 'You guys get things done.'"
Cunin's California-based organization is dedicating its upcoming 25th annual telethon to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and it is enlisting the help of such Hollywood stars as Jon Voight, Magic Johnson, Martin Sheen, Bob Dylan, Matt LeBlanc, Tony Danza and Whoopi Goldberg to raise money for everyone from the Gulf Coast who needs help. It is part of Chabad's tradition of nonsectarian crisis intervention, Cunin said.
"The Torah places squarely on our shoulders the responsibility to be there for all God's children. We take that very seriously," he said. "When someone knocks on your door and asks for your help, you don't ask what their faith is. The fact of the matter is, we're all human beings."