New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama
As part of our “Let’s Go to All 50 States” tour, we visited another three states last winter to try to close the gap on hitting all 50. I’ve always wanted to go to Louisiana, home of Cajun cooking, and when I noticed on the map that Biloxi, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama, are in relatively close proximity, it was a good opportunity to do quick stops in those cities too.
Our first stop in New Orleans was actually to the Chabad House, to Rabbi Mendel and Rebbetzin Malkie Rivkin. We had a lovely meal there with their extended family, and we sat around the table hearing about Jewish life in New Orleans and life on shlichus. We even traded books; they had written a book about their plight during Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of their children (Escape from Hurricane Katrina by Chaya Sara Ben Shachar), and I reciprocated with a copy of Perfect Flavors.
We spent several hours the next day on a walking tour of the French Quarter, learning the history of the neighborhood. Our guide took us to the supermarket so we could buy the unique-to-New Orleans potato-chip flavors by the Zapp company: Spicy Cajun Crawtators, Voodoo, Hotter N’ Hot Jalapeño, Mesquite BBQ, and Cajon Dill
Gator-Tators. I love potato chips — it’s my go-to snack — and I love that they had such local flavor packed into the chips.
Our tour included a stop at the famous Café Du Monde, which serves chicory-flavored coffee and beignets covered in confectioners’ sugar. They were so delicious; they literally melted in our mouths and we got covered in sugar! There are several branches of this kosher café throughout the city — even one at the airport, so I got something to eat for the plane ride home too.
When I plan trips, I always search “top things to do” in each city, and in this case, the National World War II Museum came up. I wasn’t sure if this would be a hit with the family but since it was raining that afternoon, I suggested we just go. We were blown away by the incredible displays of American heroism during the war; the exhibitions were so well put together. The exhibits, write-ups, and movie clips really engaged us. Even though we’re more of an action and adventure family, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to visit this museum. If any of you are history buffs, this is a destination museum for you and definitely worth the trip.
New Orleans also has steamboat rides and music concerts and boat rides out on the Bayou. It has two kosher restaurants too! The Kosher Cajun NY Deli and Grocery serves the Jewish community twofold. It hosts a supermarket filled with (almost) every item that we find in the bigger communities, as well as a restaurant that also serves up the delicious local dishes and flavors such as Jambalaya and Po’Boy sandwiches, Waffles on Maple is a restaurant that serves waffles, crepes, pancakes, sandwiches, omelets, paninis, and pizzas — everything from sweet to savory. To me, it was heaven on a plate. I chose the sampler, which gave me two savory and two sweet options.
Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin is the rabbi of Congregation Anshei Sefard, which was established in 1925 by a group of chassidim. The building is magnificent, built in the style of so many old-world European shuls. Although the shul was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, it survived quite well considering its age. These days, it hosts minyanim with many guests each week, as its location is very central as compared to downtown and the French Quarter.
After finishing with New Orleans, we decided to make another two quick stops in two more states. We drove to Biloxi, Mississippi, traveling along the beautiful coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. It boasts a lighthouse that is the only one in the US that sits on a median on a main highway. We met up with Rebbetzin Hannah Hall and had a picnic lunch at the Chabad House. There was a beautiful sculpture garden that has a memorial to those who lost their lives in the hurricane.
We were already so close to
Alabama, so we drove up north to Mobile, Alabama. We had to find something to do, so once again we searched, and ended up going to see the battleship USS Alabama.
All in all, we appreciated the chance to get to see the beauty of both the Gulf Coast and the abundant Jewish life down south!
Just recently, right after Pesach, I had the unique opportunity to work with the NCSY Relief Mission team in New Orleans. A group of teens from Seattle’s Northwest Yeshiva High School joined as well. Parts of New Orleans hit by Hurricane Katrina 17 years ago are still not up and running, and the NCSY Relief Mission team helped feed the 9th Ward District community, rebuild houses, and open the dialogue to help community relations and fill in where help is needed.
One of our programs was a free pop-up restaurant in the 9th Ward in an open field right outside Burnell’s, the neighborhood’s one and only grocery store. My job was to facilitate and oversee cooking the food we made for the locals. The teens and I, along with local Chef Courtney, made fresh, delicious grilled chicken cutlets. (We had brought down the cutlets from Gourmet Glatt to ensure kosher food and ingredients would be available.) To learn more about NCSY Relief and see all their missions, go to Reliefmissions.ncsy.org.
>About 10,000 Jews live in New Orleans.
>The city boasts a few mikvaos and several Chabad centers.
>Slater Torah Academy provides early childhood though elementary education.
>The Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz”l sent Rabbi Zelig and Rebbetzin Bluma Rivka Rivkin in 1975 as shluchim to New Orleans. They established Chabad House Uptown, where their son and daughter-in-law Rabbi Mendel and Rebbetzin Malkie now run the Chabad.
>There are many Chabad centers throughout New Orleans, as well as Chabad Center Metairie; a Chabad student center at Tulane Uni Undergrad and Grad; and a Chabad Jewish medical society that services local hospitals and doctors with bikur cholim and chaplaincy.
>In addition to Chabad, there’s also Congregation Beth Israel in Metairie.
(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 797)
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