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Former Riverdale Rabbi Helps Rebuild New Orleans Congregation After Katrina

New Synagogue Was Dedicated On Sunday
Torah carried out of Congregation Beth Israel following Hurricane Katrina (credit: http://bethisraelnola.com)

Torah carried out of Congregation Beth Israel following Hurricane Katrina (credit: http://bethisraelnola.com)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Seven years after Hurricane Katrina decimated much of New Orleans, a local rabbi dedicates a new synagogue he helped rebuild.

Rabbi Uri Topolosky was the associate rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx when Katrina hit.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

Beth Israel, a 100-year-old Orthodox congregation, was badly damaged in the flooding.

Rabbi Topolosky said that natural disaster really affected him and left him compelled to act.

“I really felt for the first time in my life a real sense of calling, a sense of purpose, of mission,” Topolosky told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.

Topolosky moved his family to the Big Easy to help restore “a Jewish community that had been seriously battered, had lost a third of its membership and was searching to revitalize itself,” he said.

“We’ve just lost a third of our community, so much of our energy, so much of our momentum. The task was to recreate a sense of community,” Topolosky said.

Topolosky said all seven of the congregation’s torah scrolls were submerged under water for two weeks.

Looters also ransacked the congregation when the flood waters receded.

The rabbi told Sandberg he was inspired by the biblical story of Noah and the floods.

“The water metaphor works the other way, too. Just as it brought such destruction, it also is the source of life,” Topolosky said.

The groundbreaking on the new synagogue started in 2010 and the refurbished synagogue was officially dedicated Sunday.

Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. 2005.

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