“CLIMATE CHANGE DIRECTLY AFFECTS EACH OF US,” says eighth grader Julia Rosenthal. “And it’s something that’s in our power to mitigate.”
She along with 27 other eighth and ninth graders from Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and Temple Israel of New York City, traveled to New Orleans over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.
In the pre-dawn hours of January 13, the group of teens departed for John F. Kennedy International Airport and landed in New Orleans just before lunch. This four-day trip, part of our post-b’nai mitzvah teen program, explored the complex and rich history and culture of New Orleans through a Jewish and environmental lens.
“New Orleans is a remarkable place to learn about climate change and the intersection with civil rights,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin, who leads our Religious School as director of youth education. “Its rich Jewish history is very different from New York’s. We can learn about Jewish value of being God’s partners in caring for our world from both places in different ways.”
The group had an opportunity to see climate change firsthand as they explored the bayou, learning about the coastal restoration, marshlands and levees.
“At the Wharf on Bienvenu, we went on an eco-tour centered around the floodwater management infrastructure, which I found extremally interesting,” says ninth grader Noah Bilerman.
The group also visited several sites that delved into the racial history of the South and New Orleans, including the Whitney Plantation Ashé Cultural Arts Center, which celebrates the people, places and philosophies of the African diaspora. “It was a difficult topic,” recalls Julia. “As I heard the living stories, I felt pain in my chest, salt in my eyes.”
“The tour was very emotionally challenging, but was an experience I would never give up,” says Noah. “It made everyone on the trip think about what happened not very long ago.”
The budding community of teen travelers was also introduced to Louisiana’s historic Jewish community, celebrating Shabbat together at Touro Synagogue. The group also took in the culture of New Orleans, including Cajun kosher food and, of course, Café du Monde. On their final day, they visited Mardi Gras World, where the group learned about the history of the Mardi Gras parade.
“This is how we can teach and create Jewish life in the real world,” says Rabbi Rifkin. “It’s really important to build community outside the walls of our synagogue.”