The last time Tulane senior and Hillel student Jessica Sarter had to evacuate New Orleans for a hurricane was three years ago when Katrina hit. Sarter and the many other Tulane seniors had every reason to fear a repeat disaster when evacuating for Hurricane Gustav, a hurricane that was predicted to cause full-scale destruction similar to Katrina in the New Orleans area.
Displaced Tulane students join Texas Hillel students at a Labor Day Barbeque.
"We were freaking out about whether we’d be able to return for school and graduate and we didn’t know if Tulane could survive another Katrina," said Sarter, who evacuated with a group of Hillel students to Austin, Texas.
But once everyone left New Orleans safely, Sarter said everyone calmed down and started to enjoy their "hurrication," a term the students have been using to describe the time their spending away from school temporarily until they're allowed to return.
To help students find their home away from home, Hanan Nayberg, assistant director at New Orleans Hillel and former Israel fellow at Texas Hillel, arranged for a group of 10-15 displaced Tulane students to participate in a Labor Day Barbeque at Texas Hillel. Nayberg said that Texas Hillel was very hospitable and that the Tulane students were really excited to see another Hillel in action.
"They were really impressed, and I think they got a lot of ideas," Nayberg said. "It was actually a blessing in disguise in a sense."
Rabbi Yonah Schiller, executive director of New Orleans Hillel, evacuated with his family to Atlanta, where many other Tulane students went as well. Rabbi Schiller said that the seniors at Tulane, who were in a similar situation when they were freshmen, helped some of this year’s freshmen find places to evacuate or took them in. In a repeat of the Katrina scenario, he asked Hillel directors across North America to welcome displaced Tulane students to their campuses.
Rabbi Schiller said it's a difficult time because no one knows when they will be able to return to New Orleans. He's dreading the drive back to New Orleans, which normally takes seven hours but took him 15 during the evacuation.
Schiller, who became executive director in July, said that even though New Orleans is continuously faced with hurricanes, people still choose to live in the area.
"New Orleans is an incredibly unique place and that's why people keep coming back," he said. "I don't see that dying anytime soon."