Even in New Orleans: A Time for Joy


by Baila Olidort - NEW ORLEANS, LA

February 7, 2006

When Mendy Traxler slipped the gold ring on Rachel Kaufmann’s finger under the wedding canopy last night, and when he crushed the glass underfoot to cries of “Mazel Tov!” sentiments ran the gamut of relief and joy and gratitude. And for those who’ve lost so much in Hurricane Katrina, there was a sense of momentary redemption in the recognition that “even a hurricane cloud has a silver lining.”

That's how Bluma Rivkin, Chabad representative to New Orleans, described her feelings about this wedding--a first for her immediate community since Hurricane Katrina--in an interview with Lubavitch.com.

In Yiddish, the word is beshert which means, “meant to be.” The Kaufmann-Traxler wedding is one of those situations where a convergence of events result in happy consequences that, in hindsight, confirm faith in the idea of beshert, or Divine providence.

When Hurricane Katrina hit last August, some of the Chabad Shluchim to New Orleans evacuated to Houston, Texas, where the city accommodated them and many of the other evacuees, “with incredible hospitality,” explains Bluma. And when Rachel Kaufmann came to Houston to be with her evacuated family for the high holidays, a mutual friend had the idea to introduce her to Mendy Traxler—whose parents were among the hosting shluchim in Houston, and who, at the time was in Baton Rouge helping with Chabad’s relief efforts.

“In fact,” says Nechama Kaufmann, mother of the bride and Chabad representative to New Orleans together with her husband David, since 1986, “ours was the first wedding that Rabbi Rivkin officiated at when he arrived as Chabad representative to New Orleans back in 1981.” So it meant a lot to them, and to the bride, that a second-generation family wedding be in New Orleans. More importantly, says Nechama, and notwithstanding the logistical challenges of making a wedding in a city that is still only in the very early stages of rebuilding its infrastructure after one of the worst hurricanes ever, the Kaufmanns wanted the wedding in New Orleans for the joy and healing it would offer the community.

"The whole point of having the wedding here was to create this opportunity for tremendous healing for our community,” says Nechama, who responded with aplomb to the difficulties she would encounter--and there were many--in planning her daughter's wedding in this ravaged city.

Friends and family mirrored Nechama's equanimity in their enthusiasm to celebrate. With most of the city’s hotels still occupied by FEMA employees and displaced families who are still without homes, it wasn’t possible reserve a block of rooms for guests in any one hotel. But that didn’t stop some 300 guests from Houston, California, New York and--many from New Orleans who still have not moved back, says Bluma, “from coming in droves to dance at this wedding.”

For so many from New Orleans who bonded with families in Houston, the wedding, held in the social hall of the Touro Synagogue in the beautiful Garden District of New Orleans--presented an opportunity to get together again--this time under happy circumstances.

For Joel Brown, owner of New Orleans's Kosher Cajun Deli which was destroyed by Katrina and has since been rebuilt with the addition of a big sign on his storefront proclaiming, "Winners Never Quit, Quitters Never Win," catering the Kaufmann wedding was a wonderful homecoming.

For the Rivkins, the Kaufmanns and the other Chabad representatives to New Orleans, it was also a much anticipated opportunity to reciprocate, in small measure, some of the generosity that Houston’s community extended to them. “Ever since we were on the receiving end of Chabad of Houston’s kindness during our time of need, we couldn’t wait for the opportunity to reciprocate.” This wedding was our chance,” says Bluma, who along with friends set up a hospitality room in her house to accommodate the guests from Houston and other cities.

Father of the bride, David, a teacher of Chabad Chasidism to many of Touro Synagogue’s members who joined him at his daughter’s wedding, says that having the wedding in New Orleans is testament to the calling of a Chabad representative. Quoting the traditional blessing given to the newly marrieds, “may they build an everlasting edifice,” he says that the Jewish wedding speaks to the idea of building—a concept that resonates deeply with the New Orleans community that is struggling to rebuild. Having the wedding here, he says, “is important to many of the people in our community who made a commitment to come back and rebuild.”

The Kaufmann-Traxler wedding brought a burst of light and promise to a community that has been through so much. "There’s still a sense of loss here,” says Bluma, referring not only to the physical destruction, but especially to the families that have not returned and that are sorely missed, and also to those who are struggling financially, living in tiny trailers instead of their once-comfortable homes. "The wedding has anchored our thoughts in joy, as we work to rebuild," she says.

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