The New Orleans Jewish community, along with the other residents of the city battered by Katrina a year ago, will mark the first anniversary of the deadly storm on Tuesday. But Adam Bronstone, who became the voice and public face of New Orleans Jewry in the months after the hurricane, won’t be there.
Bronstone, community relations consultant for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, started a similar job with the United Jewish Community of Broward County, in Florida, last month.
He says he has no special plans for Tuesday.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time reflecting,” Bronstone, 37, says.But the events of the past year — he had to evacuate New Orleans; his apartment was damaged by the flooding; his father died three weeks after the storm; his engagement was broken, largely because of the time he spent away from his fiancée because of his post-Katrina travels and workload — are always on his mind.
“I think about these things all the time,” he says. “I try not to, but I do.”
Bronstone, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, who has a Jewish day school background and a Ph.D. in European politics, had worked in New Orleans since 2001, concentrating on staff allocations, pro-Israel advocacy activities and interfaith outreach.
When Katrina approached, he loaded his car with his cell phone, laptop computer and a few other items and headed to Houston. Over the next six weeks, among a half-dozen staffers from the New Orleans’ federation based in an office of Houston’s Jewish federation, he was in Baton Rouge and back in Winnipeg, coordinating search and rescue efforts, comforting distraught relatives of missing people and dealing with the media. “I was the one writing the e-mails” to the outside world, he says. For the first few weeks, he says, “I don’t think I stopped working till midnight every day.
“Most of this was a big blur,” Bronstone says.
How emotionally draining was the time?
“On a scale of one-to-ten, it was probably a 20,” he says. “Nothing prepares you for this.”
When he eventually returned to New Orleans, he found his townhouse partially flooded, and his work still centered around Katrina. His family told him to look for a job somewhere else. Not now, he told his relatives. “Not once did I contemplate leaving my job. The job was not finished. My job was to work for the community — once in a while that means saving lives.”
Finally, “a great opportunity” in Broward County came his way. “It was time for me to move on,” Bronstone says.
One of his tasks in New Orleans, taking visitors on tours of the damaged areas and reliving the Katrina experience, had taken its toll on him, he says. “I feel like I’m losing the edge on it.”
He plans to treat Tuesday, the anniversary of the hurricane, like any other day. “I’m sure I’m going to be sitting at my desk — and it’s going to hit me.” He won’t check the TV or Internet for updates. He doesn’t have to, he says. “I lived through it.”