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Focus on New Orleans: NJ Group's 7th Klene-Up Krewe Since Katrina

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 11/15/10

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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.

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It was during this time that I discovered that Larry Weiss, a co-Berrie Fellow [Stu will explain the Berrie program in a moment] was also interested in going to New Orleans to help out. Larry had lived and worked in New Orleans in the late 1970s. The two of us met and we decided we would plan to bring a group from our community to New Orleans to help wherever it was needed. Larry and I agreed that we needed some credibility to our trip, rather than have a "Larry and David's Excellent Adventure in New Orleans." We turned to Stuart Himmelfarb, the Berrie Fellowship Program Director at our Federation to see if we could get Federation's support to add some credibility to our trip, as well as offer a much wider area of promotion of the trip. We not only got Federation's support, we also got Stu to be a partner on our trip.

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.

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As David mentioned, I worked with him and Larry Weiss as Director of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program. They were part of the inaugural cohort of 24 Fellows. The Fellowship is an intensive Jewish leadership and learning program funded by the Russell Berrie Foundation. The goal of the program is to identify, inspire, educate and connect with the highest potential leaders in the community and prepare them with the Jewish and leadership learning and skills to help them lead our community.

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.

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On the day of President Obama's inauguration, we were wrapping up our fourth trip"and I stood with my son in the lobby of the hotel watching him take the oath of office. The two of us said there was no place we'd rather be on that special day than working to help New Orleans rebuild"and to be together.

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?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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