My guests today are David Goodman and Stuart Himmelfarb, two of the three leaders of the Klene-Up Krewe that just returned from New Orleans. Welcome to OpEdNews, Stu and David. This wasn't your first trip down to the Gulf Coast, by any means. Care to tell our readers how this all came about?
David: I lived in New Orleans as a student at Tulane University. I embraced the city and was embraced by the warmth of its people. I was an 18 year old living far from home, with no local family. The charm of the city and the friendliness of the people helped me to thrive in the unfamiliar environment. I came to love Tulane, the city and the people of New Orleans.
I was horrified to watch the pain on the faces of the people left in New Orleans over Labor Weekend 2005 as Hurricane Katrina struck the city. I was frustrated by the failure of government to respond appropriately to the needs created by the storm and subsequent flooding. These people did not deserve to be treated this way.
I felt I need to do something to help out. My first attempt was to head to Houston with a group of other people from my community to help with evacuees at the Astrodome. Unfortunately, I could not make arrangements to get there. I was then asked to chair our local Jewish Federation's Emergency Campaign to raise funds to help provide solutions to the needs in the Gulf Coast. I was updated regularly on the situation on the ground to help decide where our community's funds were be best used.
Stu, please tell us a little about the Federation, what a Berrie fellow is, and what it was like for you to jump on board this project.
Stu: My response must be both professional and personal regarding how I got connected to the Klene-Up Krewe and New Orleans.
We focus on many issues, from their personal values and motivation to lessons we can learn as leaders from Jewish history and texts. Larry and David's cohort has been joined by a second group and there is now an active alumni group of more than 40 Fellows. Virtually all of them are leaders and activists in agencies, organizations and synagogues throughout northern New Jersey and beyond. And, we are proud to announce approval by the Berrie Foundation of plans for a third cohort which will start in summer 2011. What's really exciting is that the Fellows are part of the team designing the curriculum and our recruitment plans. A true partnership!
Back to New Orleans. The Berrie Fellowship focuses on leadership in action"and Larry and David are a prime example of this. They saw a problem, connected with it on both personal and leadership levels, and made a commitment to get involved in the rebuilding effort in the Gulf Coast. We at Federation saw this as totally consistent with our mission of providing central leadership in our community and rallying people from all over northern New Jersey to move beyond their generous financial support for post-Katrina rebuilding to hands-on involvement.
The three of us worked as partners at each step of the way. We divided the tasks, compared notes, and made quick decisions. From the first moment, we were motivated by a desire to do as much as we can to help. We also decided that every participant, including me as a professional staff person, would pay his or her own way. As a result, everything we do, from meals to buses to projects, would be totally shared.
I mentioned my personal connection. Yes, I did this as the Berrie Fellowship Director, but from the outset, this was a project with deep personal meaning. I had never been to New Orleans until the first Klene-Up Krewe trip and I was hooked. There is no place like New Orleans. The people and the places. The feeling of community. A small town where people are working together. And also a place where you can have so much fun.
I brought my wife and son on a few of the trips and that sealed the deal. As occurred with many Krewe members, the chance to work alongside your kid is the most rewarding part of the experience. This meant we were helping the people of New Orleans but we were also helping ourselves because the truth is that we get even more out of these experiences than the people we aim to help.
Bottom line, I am the fortunate one here. I get to fulfill professional goals regarding leadership and mobilizing volunteers. But, on a personal level, have gotten a chance to have a deeply meaningful and rewarding experience with my family. As the early Zionists in Israel said, "we build and we are built up." What more could one ask for?
This November trip was the seventh one that you've organized over the years. What was it like down here the first time after Katrina?