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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


Sephardic Jewish Community Please Help Katrina Victims

31 August 2005

By Shelomo Alfassa

On this terrible week when thousands are feared dead, major towns have suffered catastrophic damage, and an entire United States city has been destroyed, we mourn with the mourners and stand with the survivors. This is a time when we all should remember to be thankful for what we have and consider supporting those that have-not. We need to aid those that are helping to sustain the poor refugees that are walking the streets in a daze of confusion. Although many of us feel helpless as we try to comprehend what we see on our televisions, we can make a difference.

Our Sephardic tradition has always kept us a people of the world. Never have we walled ourselves off and marginalized ourselves from the community at large. It is our interaction with the greater society, while keeping our adherence to the Torah, which is at the core of who the Sephardic Jews are. In the past, when times of trouble arose, whether they were natural disasters or manmade situations, we as Jews, Sephardim, always took action and supported our communities. We remember that we prayed to the Almighty seeking peace and security whether it was in the Balkans, Britain, the lands of the Sultan, during the American Revolution or during the hostilities in South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. We remember that we donated towards the Allied war campaign and purchased a "Sephardic" bomber in WWII. Sephardim always donated funds for those in need, Jewish or not. No matter what happened in the community or against the countries where we resided, we stood up and helped in one way or another. Prayers, charitable funds, they are both important. After 9/11 the Sephardic community poured its heart out, but now, while a different type of disaster faces us, the same sort of response is quickly needed.

It has been reported there are almost 10,000 full-time Jewish residents in New Orleans, not to mention a large population of Jewish students attending colleges in the area. Approximately half of the full time residents evacuated their homes in advance of the storm, but not everyone was able to leave. The vast majority of the homes of members of the Jewish community have been destroyed. As of today, 300 residents of the Jewish Home for the Aging need emergency evacuation. At least one synagogue in New Orleans, Shaar Hadash, is under water, and another is heavily damaged. The Jewish communal services building has been destroyed. The need for cash assistance, temporary housing, access to health care and personal counseling are enormous. Beyond New Orleans, the Jewish communities in Mobile, Biloxi and throughout the region also have similar needs.

In the Mishna Torah, Maimonides defines the importance of gifts to the poor and needy. In his rules and regulations related to this subject, he writes, "anyone who can afford it must give charity according to their needs." In addition, we know that the highest priority for sedaka is for redeeming captives and saving lives; in this case, the people are trapped, possibly tens of thousands of them. Funds raised during this treacherous time go to the most important of all humanitarian causes, saving lives.

There are many ways to help the relief effort now taking place in Southern United States. As the rescues continue and thousands are feared dead, we accept the fact that over 100,000 souls will eventually be homeless. A donation of sedaka in any amount would be a nice way to take part in the overall relief mission that will, sadly, take years to complete. The Torah tells us, "When your brother becomes poor and he slips down among you, you must come to his aid." This includes both Jews and non-Jews.

If you have the means, please consider a donation to an organization which directly will use the money for the relief effort, an organization such as the American Red Cross. While many would like to donate to the local Jewish communities that were affected, all communications are down with those community and phone calls cannot be made there. The American Red Cross can be reached at 800-HELP-NOW and a donation to that organization would directly support the recovery and healing of the New Orleans and Gulf Coast cities.