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Monday, September 19, 2005

Should The Emissary Have Evacuated?

A lot of props going to Chabad Shaliach (emissary) Rabbi Yossi Nemes, of Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. He weathered the storm in his house, with his wife and seven children, to remain in New Orleans with 4 members of his congregation who had not evacuated in advance of the hurricane. His first-hand account is here. Thank God, he, his family, and the congregants that weathered the storm with him came through the storm. But I'm not sure I like the message he came out of this experience with:
They say that hindsight is 20/20. But I’m no longer as convinced of this. At times, perhaps, if we would have known what lay in store for us, our decisions would have been different and then the good that resulted from those very decisions would be lost forever.
He is obviously saying that though they felt at the time that their family should have evacuated in advance of the storm, the good things that came out of their remaning behind made him glad that he didn't.

Now, don't get me wrong. I commend Rabbi Nemes for keeping his congregants company, and helping others in the aftermath of the hurricane. But I cannot comprehend the thought process that has him putting his seven children in danger to save four others. Are we to take from this that one should risk bystanders lives to save others' lives - at the ratio of almost 2:1? There are Chabad Sluchim in dangerous places all overthe world. Is this to be a new Chabad policy? Keep your family with you and don't evacuate ahead of a dangerous situation if there are still congregants remaining behind?

I had this argument with a fellow blogger in a comment thread at DovBear's site, and his words were:
Orthomom, you can validly debate whether the rabbi could look elderly neighbors and stranded tourists in the face and say "sorry, your on your own, my family comes first, good luck", and whether he qualifies as a 'pious fool' from the Gemora, risking his life and the lives of others to protect other lives.
Surprisingly though, some people actually hold by loving your brother as yourself, and mean it. Clearly the rabbi and his wife fit that category.
To which I answered:
In my opinion, if "treat your neighbor as you would yourself", means "expose them and yourself, and your family to an extremely high risk of harm or death", count me out.
As a mother of four children, I can't imagine feeling otherwise. I would absolutely understand it if Rabbi Nemes had sent his wife and children ahead to safety, and remained behind to do good deeds. But for him to make the decision to stay behind on behalf of his seven minor children is plain wrong.

34 Comments:

Blogger Jack's Shack said...

He should have sent his children away. There are situations in which you can make excuses for not doing so, where it would not be any safer for them to be elsewhere, but this is not one of them.

It was a mistake in judgement. Good intentions are not a substitute for poor decision making.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

he should have sent his kids and his wife ahead. They shouldn't have been there. So many people did die in the storm.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Someone from New Orleans said...

1) If you live in New Orleans, you have been through at least 15 of these "This is the big one" scares.
It is a little hard to take them all that seriously.

2) Rabbi Rivkin lives in a large house, which is raised about 10 feet off the street, and has a second story that is about 20 feet off the street. Rabbi Nemes has a house that is brick, and has a second story about 12 feet off the floor.
3) The pictures you keep seeing on TV are of one area, where the water was very, very high. For people everywhere else, once the storm passed, the problem was one of inconvenience, albeit serious inconvenience (no water, a/c, or cooking facilities) but was not life threatening for people without serious medical conditions.

4) New Orleans is about 30 miles from the gulf coast. It is not a beachfront city, and does not get life threatening wind, like those that took down an entire beachfront apartment building in Gulfport, killing many people. As long as one remains inside during the storm, and stays away from windows, one's life is not in danger.
The bottom line is that it was not nearly as dangerous as it sounds, if you live in the right area, so you should take that into account when you make your judgements.

12:43 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

1) If you live in New Orleans, you have been through at least 15 of these "This is the big one" scares.
It is a little hard to take them all that seriously.

Except that the fact that this was the first mandatory evacuation might have sent a bit of a message.

4) New Orleans is about 30 miles from the gulf coast. It is not a beachfront city, and does not get life threatening wind, like those that took down an entire beachfront apartment building in Gulfport, killing many people. As long as one remains inside during the storm, and stays away from windows, one's life is not in danger.
What in God's name are you talking about? It was clear to anyone who was reading or watching the news as the storm approached that New Orleans's "bowl-shaped construction" and its location below sea level put it at a unique risk for fatal flooding. It was all over the place! So basically, you, and George W. Bush were the only people in the country who didn't see the bulletin advising of the high risk of the levees being breached.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous REReader said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that it is an aveira to deliberately put yourself (or someone else) in a life-threatening position--(possibly) even to save another life?

1:02 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Not as clear in this situation. I am again, commending the Rabbi for helping others, even if he were putting himself in danger. But I can't imaginehow he felt his family to be expendable toward that end.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Someone from New Orleans said...

Except that the fact that this was the first mandatory evacuation might have sent a bit of a message.
Actually, Jefferson Parish, where Rabbi Nemes lives, was never under mandatory evacuation.
It was clear to anyone who was reading or watching the news as the storm approached that New Orleans's "bowl-shaped construction" and its location below sea level put it at a unique risk for fatal flooding. It was all over the place!
Growing up in New Orleans, I am aware of the "levee overtopping" issue.
Try to understand. If you live in a place that is not more than 5 feet below sea level, even overtopped or breached levees are not going to get you, because the water will only rise to the level of the lake, which, at high point, was 6 ft. above sea level, which would mean that the water would have risen to 11 ft. in that area, and still not killed someone on the second floor of a building. There are parts of New Orleans that are 10-12 ft. below sea level, and would be looking at 16-18 ft. of water, which is a whole different story, obviously.
You need to understand the facts before you talk so much.
There are three dangers that one faces in this sort of storm.
1) High winds kill you by hitting you with something hard.
2) Wind damages something hazardous, like power lines or windows, which kill you.
3) Storm surge destroys the building that you are in, annd kills you.
In New Orleans, there is a fourth risk, which is that storm surge or wind causes a flood that drowns you.
And a fifth risk, which is that the flood disrupts basic services and you die of thirst, exposure, or lack of medical care.
Risks 1,2,3, which are the most common killers in Hurricanes, are minimal in a city like New Orleans, as long as you stay indoors, in an interior room during the storm.
Risk Four is s serious one in LOW LYING areas of the city, but less in an area that is not so low, especially if you have a second floor to go to.
Risk Five is serious for elderly people, or people that need regular medical care. When the dust settles, you will find that most New Orleans area deaths were caused by this problem, not by any other.
BTW, on the topic of Levees breaching. In fact, no one predicted the floodwalls breaking, the fear was always of storm surge OVERTOPPING the levees. If you can find one source in pre-Katrina Media that predicts the floodwalls withstanding the surge, and then breaking, I will be very surprised.
http://www.nola.com/hurricane/index.ssf?/washingaway/harmsway_1.html
Read this link for the predictions in 2001.

1:11 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

If things were so wonderful, how come the Nemes's were packing up and ready to evacuate ubtil the ringing phone waylaid them? If things were so safe, why were they so worried for their congregants who might have beenleft behind? To say that there was no real danger to them and their families is a stunning claim.

1:16 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

perhaps wer now have a winner for Sunday, September 18, 2005
Parenting Goofs post

1:33 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Oh, and by the way, from Mayor Nagin's speech the day he called for the mandatory evacuation:
Nagin warned that Katrina's expected storm surge -- which could top 28 feet -- would likely topple those levies.

1:34 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

amshi:
LOL!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Akiva said...

Someone from New Orleans makes some very good points which helps put things in perspective. NOBODY, clearly not local, state or federal authorities seriously expected what occurred. Should they have, yes. But, again, not so many people truly take these things fully seriously.

If you live in Florida or the Gulf Coast, 'regular' hurricanes are exactly that, regular. In California, 'regular' earthquakes are regular. And in New York, 'regular' blizzards or possible terror attacks, 'regular'.

Who in New York really has a month in food and iodine pills ready? Who in Florida or the Gulf Coast has full supplies and medicines ready? Who in California has the same?

We're taking this very very seriously right now, and we took our NY attack preparations very very seriously for a few years. Unfortunately though, very few people incorporate the full preparation outlook in to their way of life and really aren't ready.

Do you have a pile of cash, food, water, medicine, first aid kit, all ready to travel, if needed, right now? Should you? Yes. (I don't either, we ate the food 2 years ago and spent the money last year.)

It was last minute scramble and making the best last minute decisions you could. Note that most of the New Orleans Jewish communities also abandoned their Sefer Torah's (pictures on my blog, mpaths.com), so there obviously wasn't much advanced planning going on regarding getting out. (Small side note, I've seen a lot of New York shul's having safe's incorporated into their aron kodeshim, to protect the Torah's from theft or fire, if people considered flooding a serious possibility you'd think they would build a water tight aron kodesh.)

I think it's a little hard to second guess the situation, not having been through it with all it's accompanying concern, panic, circumstances, and unclear info at the time.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Someone from New Orleans said...

If things were so wonderful, how come the Nemes's were packing up and ready to evacuate ubtil the ringing phone waylaid them? If things were so safe, why were they so worried for their congregants who might have been left behind? To say that there was no real danger to them and their families is a stunning claim.
Even after the storm, people were severely inconvenienced, and, in fact Rabbi Nemes did save the life of one elderly person, who, because of his needs, was in danger due to the deprivations caused by the flood.
People were worried about Rabbi Nemes and his family because of their difficult situation. They were in a city, with no power, or water, and might end up in a shelter, which is not a safe place. But, they were not in immediate danger.
I know that you want it to be differently, because it gives you more to rant about, but it is not the case.
If you disagree, you should explain why, instead of just calling it a stunning claim. Explain where the life threatening danger comes from in this case.

I am not saying that staying was a very good idea. I, in fact, packed up and left before the storm, because I live in a lower house, and because, even in a good scenario, I did not relish the idea of being stuck in 95 degree weather with no power or drinkable water. But, to act as if the Rabbi took his kids and left them on the railroad tracks in the face of an oncoming train is just silly
THe people that stayed in low areas, in one story houses, were in danger of life. The people that stayed in beachfront houses that had roofs ripped off, and were exposed to flying projectiles, were in danger of life. The people that stayed in shelters filled with thousands of armed, desperate people, were in danger of life. The people whose health is fragile and requires constant attention, were in danger of life. The people who stayed in high, sturdy houses with hurricane shutters, and brick walls, were not in danger of life. They were sorely inconvenienced, but were not in danger of life

2:52 PM  
Blogger Chaim said...

OrthoMom, I really don't understand why you are fighting this so strongly. I don't really know how I feel either way, you could be right, or your could be wrong.

It's one thing to second guess what he did, even though we don't really know all the exact details. But it just seems you have an axe to grind. You didn't let this issue die on DB's blog, and when people try to defend what he did you seem to be fighting very hard against it.

I think he was in a very hard situation and I wouldn't wish that on anyone else to make those decisions. I trust if he was able to, and thought it would put his own children in any real danger he would have sent them away.

We all knew this was a bad storm, no one knew the city was going to be decimated.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Moishe Q. Public said...

Think of it this way, if some everyday Joe said, "Hey, I'm riding out this storm 'cause some of my neighboors need to, and hell, I'm keeping my seven kids here with me, in danger, irregardless of a mandatory evacuation" everyone would be saying what an ass he was. But, in this case, being a learned man with a kipah, well, no one calls DSS. Child endangerment knows no colors or religions. His actions were unconscionable and his wifes acquiescence makes her equally culpable.

4:43 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

life-of-rubin:
OrthoMom, I really don't understand why you are fighting this so strongly. I don't really know how I feel either way, you could be right, or your could be wrong.
Chalk it up to a mother of small helpless children's knee-jerk reaction against anyone who puts their own children in danger.
I have no problem with Rabbi Nemes staying behind, and I absolutely consider him a hero. But his children had no business being there if he had the time and the means to evacuate them, which he did. I am afraid of a precedent being set, that it's ok to put children in danger for the greater good. It isn't.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

"I think he was in a very hard situation and I wouldn't wish that on anyone else to make those decisions. I trust if he was able to, and thought it would put his own children in any real danger he would have sent them away."

I don't think anyone envies the position he was in or questions his motivitation. He obviously made a judgment call under rough circumstances. For all of the reasons expressed by OM, that judgment is subject to question.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous someone in new orleans said...

For all of the reasons expressed by OM, that judgment is subject to question.
This, in spite of the fact that Orthomom has been deceived by the media hysterics. The danger was far less than she thinks.

5:34 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

This, in spite of the fact that Orthomom has been deceived by the media hysterics. The danger was far less than she thinks.
I really don't know how you can say that with the aftermath we are looking at right now.
And FYI, I got a considerable amount of my information from NOLA locals or former NOLA locals.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OM, I'm a mom too, of only one kid. But I would never have stayed back if I had a way to evacuate. I dont know why this guy is trying to show how not dangerous it was in New Orleans, when we all watch the news and see how bad it is now.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous someone in New Orleans said...

But I would never have stayed back if I had a way to evacuate. I dont know why this guy is trying to show how not dangerous it was in New Orleans, when we all watch the news and see how bad it is now.
I agree that the prudent thing to do was to evacuate. In fact, I did so myself, in spite of the fact that I have never before evacuated, in the 15 other "this is the big one" scares that we had in the past.
But, my point is this: Do you remember when there was this reputation that Brooklyn was that it was some kind of Beirut, and no matter how much you tried to explain to people that Boro Park was not like that, they still could not understand how anyone would live in dangerous, scary Brooklyn.
It is the same with the NO area during this hurricane. There are parts, especially low lying areas, where staying put one's life in danger. There are other parts, where staying was a little risky, and almost certainly assured you of experiencing serious inconvenience. But, there is a difference between those two levels of risk. One is like driving 130MPH on the highway, and the other is like driving 90 MPH. While driving 90 MPH is a little reckless, it is not a cause for calling Child Protective Services. As to the question of what ortho sees on her TV, don't you realize that the TV is showing the scariest areas? Do you expect them to show shots of places that had 3-4 ft. of water in the street for 1 day, or places that had 15 ft. of water for two weeks?

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know. I was in Boro Park today and some wacko Chassid) opened the door (while I was putting DS in on the other side) jumped in and asked for a ride (and called me baby). Seems pretty scary to me.

But I digress. The rabbi and his wife should not have put their children in this kind of danger. That is abuse. They could have sent them north with any number of families or friends evacuating, but did not. Shame on them. I wonder how their children will feel about them when they ultimately wake up, find out the Rebbe is not Moshiach, and go off the derech.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous someone in new orleans said...

Shame on them. I wonder how their children will feel about them when they ultimately wake up, find out the Rebbe is not Moshiach, and go off the derech.
Until this post, I thought this discussion was about facts, and that a few facts could shed light on things. Now I see that it is just another excuse for sick losers to spew their ridiculous hatred against Chabad. Orthomom, check your facts before posting next time. I am out

10:16 PM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

In defense of Rabbi Nemes:

1) No one knew how bad it would be on the ground. There had never been that type of flood and people were told that the storm was a dud. Remember, it was the flood, not the storm that did the damage, and no one had a living memory of such an unimaginable occurance.

2) He wanted to instill bravery in his children. Harrowing for a parent, but a lesson. Given #1, not a terrible thought.

3) We hear Cassandras all the time. He wanted to instill a "grain of salt" attitude in his chidren.

4) He may have realized that his home was not in huge danger, knowing the lie of the land and where his house was. He may have felt confident that there might be damage, but did not feel real danger. I mean, people drive without seatbelts and smoke all the time, and there are far more orphans from that than from the storm.

Even given these. a father's view is somewhat different than a mother's. I completely understand your visceral response, but I understand Rabbi Nemes' statement here. Whoever said "abuse" is being a little melodramatic.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I want to instill bravery in my kids, I have the neighborhood bully beat them up. Then I tell them to take it with a grain of salt when they are in the ER. Heck, a good beating never killed anyone.
RebelJew: You're an idiot.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

Please reread point #1 and #3. IN LIGHT OF THAT, read #2. Remember, also, Nemes' point was that he wished he had gone, but in retrospect, it all worked OK.

I am the second or third to last one to defend Chabad nutniks, but "abuse"? Come on. The guy got stuck not thinking ahead or not being omniscient and ended up doing something useful. Kol Hakavod.

11:28 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Again, I pointed out numerous times that I feel that his actions were heroic. I just feel he should have evacuated his children ahead of the storm. It was irresponsible parenting not to.

11:33 PM  
Blogger MDmom said...

i just have to add that as someone who lives somewhere that is constantly villified in the media as a dangerous place, i would have to give the new orleans native some credit. if "new orleans" is telling us that it is not as dangerous as the media depicts, i would tend to believe him/her that not all of the city was under such dire threat as we thought. how many times have you heard people say, "i know what i see on the news, and what i read in the paper and i'm just not going to israel this year -- it's a war zone there." and we all know that all of israel is not a war zone. but as recently as a few months ago (i think) even the state department warned against traveling here. is it irresponsible parenting to make aliya? is it irresponsible parenting not to make yerida? if you aren't there yourself, to make your own judgement calls, you just don't know. don't trust completely what you see on tv and read in the papers... remember the ny times photo of the kid being beaten by israeli soldiers at the beginning of the intifida? well, he was a jewish kid being *saved* by chayalim from a beating by palestinians. and he just made aliya last week. it's important to remember that the media is a business -- they need to sensationalize in order to gain viewers or increase readership, keep people interested, and it is very very biased.

1:47 AM  
Blogger Chaim said...

Its real easy to just sit here on blogger and judge him. I just think your being a little too judgemental here, there were plenty of factors involved, and I don't think its so right for you to on one hand say he's a hero and the other practically accuse him of Child Abuse.

I don't think your being fair. What about the Jewish people who live in South Africa, where they have to live in gated communities and if they go out to the wrong block can get mugged, kidnapped, beaten, raped or murdered. Are you condemning anyone who raises their children there?

I grew up in the south, and know just as much as anyone the "oh this is the big one" cry wolf game. Yes today we see mass devastation, and a city destroyed, but going back to that Sunday and Monday - Even though many places were saying this is huge, we ourselves didn't even know how huge it ended up being till the next day. Look at my blog, I wrote a post on how all these people kept telling me the next morning, oh, see no big deal, went ok, and then the levees broke.

This was a very detailed specific situation, and I just feel your a little too easily ready to fry him. Hind Sight is 20/20, maybe he himself would have done things differently, who knows, but to so vehemently go after him, and fight this topic for what is it now 5 days?

7:49 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

and fight this topic for what is it now 5 days?
Well, to be fair...I took a two-day break in between...

7:53 AM  
Blogger Chaim said...

Oy vey ... :-) End Scene.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous LC said...

Did anyone *read* his account?

Like, this part, for example:
By 4:00, . . . we discovered that leaving by car now bore a significant risk factor. News reports presented a dismal picture of the highways backed up with hours of traffic while the storm loomed closer. If we ended up stuck on the highway, G-d forbid, in the middle of the storm, our chances of surviving were far smaller than if we were to be in our brick, hurricane-fortified home.

By 5:00 the winds got stronger. We started preparing for Plan B.


Not to mention, the national news has mentioned that the entire highway system was a major traffic jam.

And as for mom of 4's comment:
But his children had no business being there if he had the time and the means to evacuate them, which he did.

He did not. They wanted to leave. They didn't stay for the telephone, or to save other people, they stayed because they weren't likely to get out of town anyway. And I'd agree with their assessment that a fortified house, in a non mandatory-evacuate area wins over a private vehicle any day.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous REReader said...

If you can find one source in pre-Katrina Media that predicts the floodwalls withstanding the surge, and then breaking, I will be very surprised.

Okay, here goes: from the website mediamatters.org (http://mediamatters.org/items/200509030001):

* ABC's Nightline, 9/15/04: "If it sounds overly dramatic, it is not. This city is surrounded by water on three sides. Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi below. A major hurricane hitting right here would breach the levees. Water would cascade in, submerging the city. And because of the levees, it would have no way of escaping."

* Associated Press, 5/16/04: "Officials have warned that if a major hurricane hits New Orleans, thousands of people could be killed and the city could be flooded for weeks as flood waters breach the levees ringing the city, which has the topography of a saucer that dips several feet below sea level in many places."

* The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 9/19/03: "... the Hurricane Center has developed an 'extremely detailed' map of New Orleans because the city, which sits about 6-feet below sea level and is surrounded by levees, is a 'worst-case scenario' for a major storm to hit. Knowing how far and how fast the water in the inlets will rise, evacuations and cleanups can be better planned, [LSU Hurricane Center director Ivor] van Heerden said. In the case of south Louisiana, a breach of the levees would trap the flood water on the wrong side of the bank once the bayous and rivers receded, van Heerden said."

* Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/6/02: "New Orleans, with more than 460,000 residents, lies entirely below sea level and depends on a system of levees to hold back the Gulf of Mexico. Some researchers say a Category 3 hurricane could breach the levees and kill thousands of people."

-----

That's just a few sources from one website.

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