Friday, September 16, 2005

Son of Hartford Chabad rabbi tells harrowing tale

In the aftermath of Katrina Hurricane, the Chabad-Lubavitch organization has taken a lead role in helping Jewish victims, keeping emissaries in New Orleans until the levees broke, a day after the storm; searching for missing residents, many of them elderly; and bringing food and water to the shelters where some are now staying.

Several recreational vehicles with members of Chabad from Houston appeared in Baton Rouge last week with boxes of food and clothing, and a contingent of yeshiva students from Brooklyn had driven to Mississippi's Gulf Coast, where they, too, were distributing necessities.

Playing a key role in those efforts is Rabbi Shaya Gopin, the 23-year-old son of Rabbi and Mrs. Joseph Gopin, Chabad's emissary in the Greater Hartford area, and his 21-year-old wife, Shayna. The two were vacationing in New Orleans when the storm hit and stayed in the city to help Shayna's father, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, the head of Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana.

The couple, who live in Brooklyn, have spoken at several local Jewish institutions about the harrowing events they experienced during and after the storm. Those events included the flooding of Rivkin's basement, as well as numerous leaks, during the storm, which also caused a small amount of damage to the city's Chabad House, in the same neighborhood.

The couple don't know how badly the rabbi's home or the Chabad House was damaged by flooding from the broken levees, having left the city at that point with Rivkin and other members of his family.

Traveling in two cars, the Gopins and his in-laws made it to Lafayette, LA, and then to Houston, where Rivkin has visited the Astrodome to find Jews there in need of help. Meanwhile, other in-laws, as well as Gopin, have helped maintain Chabad's New Orleans Website, www.ChabadNewOrleans.com, where people can request or offer help and make donations.
Gopin, a student at a Brooklyn kollel, told a small audience last week at the Chabad House of Greater Hartford that, as horrible as the storm was, he received satisfaction from witnessing the acts of chesed, or kindness, performed by Jews.

Shayna Gopin, meanwhile, said she realized something about "the Jewish response to tragedy" - that, above and beyond "just philosophizing and talking, it's about action and compassion and davening."


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