With lack of power, New Orleans synagogues disrupted right before High Holidays

Temples, churches don’t know when their congregations will be able to return

By: - September 4, 2021 5:55 am

At St. Patrick’s Church, services resumed without power (Photo by Rachel Mipro/Louisiana Illuminator)

Hurricane Ida disrupted synagogues across metro New Orleans right before the High Holy Days, an extremely significant time in the Jewish faith. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is held on Sept. 6 and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will be Sept. 16. 

With congregations scattered because of the hurricane, most synagogues across New Orleans plan on holding online services for the holidays. 

The orthodox synagogue Anshe Sfard is no exception. Sandy Lassen, synagogue executive director, said their community was feeling the loss. Lassen plans on attending services in San Antonio, where she evacuated to, but for her, it won’t be the same. She was born and raised in New Orleans, and active in the community for over 70 years. Though she’s had to evacuate before the High Holidays before, she said it doesn’t get easier. 

“It’s not going to be the first time and I hate to say this, but it may not be the last time,” Lassen said. “It makes me very sad. I’d like to be with the people I pray with, but you do what you can do.”

Lassen just started attending in-person services again after disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now she is prevented from attending her synagogue again. 

“It’s a lonely feeling,” Lassen said. “It’s really important for me to be there in person for some reason. I feel like I need to be there. It’s like a loss.” 

Other religious organizations in New Orleans are also struggling to find their way. 

The St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church is holding Zoom sermons until things return to normal, with congregational check-ins held twice a day over Zoom until Friday. The Hindu Temple of Greater New Orleans is closed indefinitely due to Hurricane Ida. 

At the Wat Wimuttayaram Buddhist Temple of Louisiana, members are working on clearing away storm damage. The temple holds monthly services, and plans to hold their service later this month without interruption. 

St. Patrick’s Church is continuing to hold Mass for the handful of congregants present in the aftermath of the hurricane. 

Mary Arno stayed for the duration of the storm. While she usually attends church daily, Friday is the first day she has gone since last Saturday, right before the hurricane hit. Arno said she was prepared to deal with the lack of power, but the church got power back Thursday night. 

“That’s going to be way cooler than where I was living,” Arno said. 

The Rev. Garrett O’Brien, pastor at the church, said he canceled the Sunday evening Mass, but resumed services Monday morning. 

At the Friday 11:30 a.m. Mass, there were only a handful of attendees, down from the usual 30 or so weekday attendees. O’Brien said it was important to keep the service going. Before the power was restored, he just opened the doors and tried to keep a breeze flowing through the church.

“We know there’s intrinsic value in continuing to do no matter what the opposition or the difficulty might be,” O’Brien said. “We know that God blesses us when we turn to him in prayer and Mass is the highest prayer that we have.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro is a contributing reporter to the Illuminator. She has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.