Katrina 's Jewish Voices
Rosalind Hinton, Oral Historian
July 24, 2007
New Orleans, LA
Katrina's Jewish Voices is a project of the Jewish Women's Archive in collaboration with the
Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Launched in August 2006, almost a
year after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the project
collected oral histories and digital artifacts to create the most comprehensive record of the
Jewish community's experiences of Katrina in existence.
The 85 oral history interviews draw on the personal experiences of American Jews whose
lives were touched by one of the most devastating humanitarian and natural disasters in
American history. Collectively, the interviews reveal the values underlying American Jewish
life at the turn of the 21 st century, the fragility of our sense of security and well-being, and the
connectedness of our lives - across boundaries of race, religion, and culture, as well as
geographic distance and generational divides. From the struggles of individuals in New
Orleans and the Gulf Coast Jewish communities to rebuild their lives and the efforts of people
across the country to provide support and relief, Katrina's Jewish Voices provides eloquent
and intimate testimony to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of community in
the face of daunting challenges.
Access: Katrina's Jewish Voices interviews were recorded on digital video. The recordings
and transcripts are available at the Jewish Women's Archive in Brookline, Massachusetts and
the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi.
Citation information: Please use the following format when citing this oral history:
Oral History of FirstName LastName, YYYY/Month/DD. Brookline, MA: Jewish Women's
Archive and Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. [If you retrieve this oral
history from a website, please add: Retrieved from http:/// XXX, TODAY'S DATE.]
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non-profit organization whose mission is to uncover, chronicle, and transmit to a broad public
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corporation dedicated to providing educational and rabbinic services to isolated Jewish
communities, documenting and preserving the rich history of the Southern Jewish
experience, and promoting a Jewish cultural presence throughout a 13-state region. For
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DR. ESTEBAN GERSHANIK
M1: We're rolling.
ROSALIND HINTON: This is Rosalind Hinton interviewing Dr. Esteban
Gershanik at his home, 300 Lake Marina Drive [Apartment 13D]. Today
is Tuesday, July 24th, 2007. I'm conducting the interview for the
Katrina Jewish Voices project of the Jewish Women's Archive and
Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Esteban, do
you agree to be interviewed and understand that the interview will be
ESTEBAN GERSHANIK: Yes, I do.
RH: Let's begin with what year you were born and then who your parents
are, how they came to be in New Orleans and then your Jewish and
EG: OK. I was born in 1975, born in Shreveport, Louisiana. My parents are
immigrants from Argentina. They got married in 1966 and, right after
their wedding, initially came to Miami to sort of have -- my dad was
going to do an internship in medicine in Miami. His brother was there.
And so -- I don't know if you want me to tell you this or not. (laughs)
EG: It's sort of a fun little story. My parents, when they came here
originally, my dad didn't know any English. My mom did. All my dad
knew was "no," because "no" was "no" in Spanish. And they were
Esteban Gershanik, 1
supposed to come, go on their honeymoon, and then my dad was
supposed to start up his intern year. And so they came to the States.
My dad decided, on the first day, to drive around. And in Argentina,
when you actually parallel park, you can hit the bumpers. It's sort of
allowed down there. It's understood. And so, on his first day in the
States, the police were looking for him, because in the United States
that's called a "hit and run". So that was his first day here. His second
day here, he decided to stop by the hospital and just tell them that he
was in town -- and just wanted to introduce himself. So he went by.
And before he went, my mom told him to say "yes" and "no" and
sometimes "maybe." And so he went in there, "Yes," "No," "Yes," "No,"
"Maybe," and he doesn't know what he was saying, exactly. And he
came back that day. My mom said, "How did your first day go?" And
he said, "It went well. There's a lot of Spanish speakers at the hospital,
being in Miami, a lot of Cubans. The facilities were nice. The people
seemed nice. It looks like it's going to be good." And my mom says,
"Do you know when you start?" He's like, "I don't know." So she called
up his director and said, "Hey, this Dr. Gershanik's wife. I was trying to
see if you knew when he was going to start work." And the director
told them that, "Well, he said yes to starting work tomorrow morning."
So there went their honeymoon,
Esteban Gershanik, 2
Twenty-five, 26 days later they overthrew the government in Argentina.
They spent a little bit over a year in Miami. Then my dad -- my parents
went to Lexington, Kentucky, where my brother was born, to continue
his residency. And then my dad moved to Charleston, South Carolina,
with my mom. And my mom was teaching at that point. My dad was
continuing in neonatology. And then he went to Shreveport, Louisiana,
to be a teacher in neonatology at LSU Shreveport. And that's where
my sister and I were born. And in 1979, at one point, my dad realized,
as an academic teacher, he wasn't really making that much money. He
had, as a kid, various medical ailments. He was shot, at one point.
Always worried about, being in this new country, that he didn't know
English too well, not knowing how long he would live. He always had
this little paranoia of not knowing how long he would live, because of
different ailments. And then he decided to take a chance and start a
neonatology unit and work at Baptist here in New Orleans, in 1979. At
that point, he realized he wasn't sure how much money he'd have for
this family, knowing that he had three kids growing up in Shreveport,
and getting an academic's salary, so took a chance, came to New
Orleans. We initially moved into the apartments they had at Baptist
Hospital, which, my brother and I shared the closet and my sister got to
sleep in the big room with my mom and my dad, when he was around,
able to sleep some. And then we eventually moved into a house, in
1979, in uptown New Orleans and have been there ever since.
Esteban Gershanik, 3
EG: So that's the sort of the quick story, I guess.
RH: Yeah. So you were pretty little, four years old --
EG: I was, yeah --
RH: -- weren't you?
EG: -- four years old when I moved here.
RH: Mmm hmm. And so what was your Jewish and general education?
EG: We initially came here -- I was in pre-K, I guess, at the Jewish
Community Center for a couple years, because of when my birthday
was. And then I went to Isidore Newman school from kindergarten to
my senior year of high school. My Jewish affiliation was with Touro
Synagogue. We went there for Sunday school -- and also was
confirmed there -- and still am a member of Touro Synagogue.
RH: Did you have a bar mitzvah?
EG: Got bar mitzvahed there as well. All three of the children got bar
RH: OK. When you were in high school, what was kind of the center of the
world in New Orleans? What did you guys do?
EG: Everything. I've always been sort of fortunate, I think, because of my
background and sort of, I guess, my family's background, in the sense
that we were always friends with different people. So I had, I think, a
much more broader experience than the usual New Orleanian. We had
our Argentine and Hispanic heritage. We had our Jewish background
Esteban Gershanik, 4
and heritage. And then we had the people, I guess, that I met through
high school, which was more of an uptown New Orleans background.
And throughout the years, I think my parents sort of became very
philanthropic. They always felt a great gratitude to the experience they
had in the United States and how warm people welcomed them in New
Orleans. So they always felt like it was their need to give back to the
community. So through different philanthropic events and different
organizations, I think we always met people who cared about the city,
who were willing to sacrifice their personal time to sort of give back to
the city. And for my personal experience, I was always active, I guess,
in sports, as well as in sort of some teaching or just volunteer network
organizations, just doing what I can in my spare time, when I could.
RH: So your, actually, kind of experience more crossing race, class, religion,
you think, than a lot of other Newman kids or --?
EG: Most of the kids at Newman, I think -- not I think -- most of the kids
from Newman are from an affluent, middle, high upper-middle class
background, traditional New Orleanians. And being sort of, I guess, the
immigrant of the group, it gave me a little bit of a different perspective.
At the same time, I also got to appreciate different cultures, in a sense.
The traditional Newman person, I think, you know, is more from the
Caucasian background. There are Jews there but there aren't as many
Esteban Gershanik, 5
Jews there as there was in its initial inception in 1903. I got to go to a
lot of events and balls and things of that nature. But at the same time, I
always had access to work in a -- I also worked in sort of the inner city
youth organizations. I did some teaching at some of the elementary
schools around town, volunteered with different organizations. And I
think actually Newman also gave us access to some of those
organizations. But it's also things that you just sort of experience from
being around town and learning things. So I think I got a more broader
experience than, I guess, [than] your usual typical Newman student.
My sister had also gone to Franklin [and the] New Orleans Center for
the Creative Arts at NOCCA. And my family was always into -- my
brother, my sister, my mom were always into the music scene. So it
sort of gave us [my family] resources of different cultural experiences
in the city.
RH: So was there a place that was a social center for your family, with you
EG: Good question. One primary social center -- 1 would say it'd either be
within that Hispanic community -- we had some fellow Argentines that,
they were Christians, so we would go over there for Thanksgiving and
Christmas, or they would come to our house. And then there was also
our friends from the Jewish community, where we would share
Passover or Yom Kippur or something of that sort. So it sort of -- it was
always intermixed between, I guess, our background, in that sense. On
Esteban Gershanik, 6
another social setting, just from the friends I made throughout school,
there were some kids that I grew up with my entire life that we played
soccer or football, and so that group of -- for my social scene, that was
sort of my group of social clique, per se. Because we always were
playing sports together. And so those were guys that I had gone to
Newman with, for the most part, and people I played sports with
throughout the years.
RH: Yeah. Interesting. Do you have any vivid memories --? Or if you could
give me just one memory of the Jewish community, you growing up,
what would that --?
EG: I was fortunate that, at a young age, I was the child blowing the shofar,
the ba'al tekiah, for the children's ceremony during Yom Kippur and
Rosh Hashanah, for the first -- I guess from when I was 1 1 years old to
when I was about 16 years old. And so that was sort of a unique
memory for me.
RH: Do you know how you got that?
EG: I think some people in my family have a natural talent for music. Mine
sort of left when I decided to focus more on sports than on music. And
I played the trumpet when I was a little kid. It was something that just
sort of came natural to me. And I think we were just in class and I blew
it and --
EG: -- people realized, "Man, you can really (laughs) do that!"
Esteban Gershanik, 7
RH: Blow that shofar. (laughs)
EG: So it was always fun, because, you know, some of the parents would
come up to me -- and we had a great person, who still plays the shofar
at Touro Synagogue, who's been playing for years. And at that point,
he was still the one doing it for the adult services. And I had some of
the parents come up to me and say, "Oh, you blow better than the
person at the adult services." And he was phenomenal. So it was sort
of nice to sort of experience that and, you know, just have the
adrenaline of performing for such a significant holiday.
RH: Mmm hmm. Oh, that's a nice story.
EG: Oh, yeah.
EG: It was fun.
RH: Mmm hmm. Why don't we get into the Katrina story? And you weren't
here, at first.
RH: So why don't you tell us about that?
EG: Well, I'm currently in my residency in internal medicine-pediatrics at
Tulane. And for the past three hurricanes prior to Katrina, I was always
[on] what's called the Code Gray Team, which is the team that, gray
being sort of like the hurricane or the storm, whenever you're on the
Code Gray Team you know you're going to stay in the hospital for a
couple days. So you just bring a little extra food. And then there's sort
Esteban Gershanik, 8
of a recovery team that comes afterwards, so that, once the hurricane
passes or the threat passes, there's another team that'll make up
whatever days that you were in the hospital. So for Ivan and some of
the other ones [hurricanes], I was in the VA Hospital and at University
Hospital. And normally you're just there for a day. You know there
aren't going to be too many patients. And you normally leave the next
day [or two]. I actually was having my holiday-slash-friend's wedding.
And I was an usher in that wedding. So I left Thursday morning prior to
the storm, when it was just, I believe, a tropical depression near Florida,
and flew into Chicago, drove up to Milwaukee, and was in Milwaukee
for this wedding. And then someone mentioned, I think it was
Saturday morning, "Did you hear about this Hurricane Katrina?" And I'd
heard vaguely about it but when you're so -- in a new city, you're too
busy dealing with wedding issues, catching up with friends, you're not
as focused as to what was a small tropical depression. I think they had
some MTV Music Awards in Miami or something of that sort that was
rained out a little bit. And it wasn't that big of a deal, four days before.
And then the night of and then that morning was when it sort of made
that turn, had gone from a Category 3 to a 5 overnight. And it was the
night of the wedding, actually at the wedding, that my parents called
me and said, "Hey, we're trying to go to [Houston] ~ I think your dad's
going to stay at the hospital." My dad was volunteering at Baptist
Hospital and elected to stay. And my parents originally, in the previous
Esteban Gershanik, 9
hurricanes, normally stay at a hotel. And [at] the hotel, this time, they
had an event that evening and the hotel said, "You can't stay at the
hotel tonight. You should try to," you know, "evacuate or go
somewhere else." And they initially had a scheduled flight to go to
Houston. And when they called, Sunday morning, their flight --
somehow they switched the reservation and said the reservation was
from Houston to New Orleans. And my brother was arguing, "Why
would we want to go to New Orleans when there's a storm hitting?"
And so eventually my dad stayed at the hospital, at Baptist Hospital,
once the storm hit. And my mom, my brother, his wife, and their
recently born baby, along with his in-laws, went to a small house in
Hattiesburg, or outside Hattiesburg, Mississippi, because my sister-in-
law's client had a house there. Unfortunately, that was the last place
they could evacuate to, last possibility.
RH: You know, they were really kind of stuck.
EG: Yeah, they were stuck. They were there for -
RH: That was Sunday they left?
EG: They left Sunday. So they went there, a newborn baby, fussy. It took, I
think, 1 2 to 15 hours to get there, where ~ and it normally an hour-and-
a-half, two hours. And the electricity was off. They had issues with the
water. They had all these [fallen tree] logs all over the place, couldn't
get around too much. And they couldn't communicate with my dad.
Ever once in a while they could. And he was at Baptist Hospital. He
Esteban Gershanik, 10
eventually evacuated from Baptist on Tuesday. He's with premature
babies. So he had an experience on his own, in that they initially
weren't sure what they were going to do at Memorial and then they
decided to evacuate the Neonatal Unit. And so he volunteered, even
though he's partially handicapped, to go on this helicopter. He also has
a sort of a fear of flying, at times. And he was resuscitating this little
premature baby that [weighed] roughly a pound. And it was in the
dark, so he couldn't really see anything. And he's hand-bagging the
baby and pinching it to see if it's still alive, wasn't really sure. And
eventually it's nighttime. And at that time, all the helicopters would
stop, before they would [fly] too long. They would do their own triage.
And so what even made my dad even more scared was that the
helicopter took off from the roof of Baptist Hospital -- Memorial -- and
stopped somewhere in between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. And
my dad's like, "Why are you all stopping? This baby needs to get to the
hospital as soon as possible." And the head of the helicopter said,
"Hey, we have our own triage system here. Just hold on." They fueled
up for gas and they eventually showed up at Women's and Children's
Hospital. And fortunately, everyone in the Neonatal Unit made it
successfully and all the kids did well.
RH: Women's and Children's Hospital is where? In--?
Esteban Gershanik, 11
EG: In Baton Rouge.
RH: In Baton Rouge? And so you said your mom called you like at the
wedding and said --?
EG: "Hey, we're not staying." "Did you hear about the storm?" I was like,
"What about the storm?" "It's a Category 3." Because remember it was
overnight that it turned into a Category 5. "And we can't stay at the
hotel." There's normally this event the night before -- 1 guess it's the
end of August, called the Azucar Ball, and my parents always are
involved with. "And they said we can't stay here. We're going to try to
leave town. We don't know where we're going to stay or where we're
going to go. We may be going to Houston." And that was sort of the
last I heard from them until Monday maybe, somewhere around there.
I was back in Chicago, waiting to come back, because my flight was
scheduled to come back to New Orleans on Monday or Tuesday. But
all flights were canceled. And so I was trying to figure out where I was
going to go, in the realm of things.
RH: So how did you figure out what you were going to do? I mean, you
saw the TV. Did you realize the levees had breached or --?
EG: I think no one realized, at that point, exactly -- On Sunday no one really
realized what was going on, yet. The breach occurred a little bit later
on. And I [was] think[ing], like most hurricanes that come through New
Orleans, as soon as it makes that little right turn, everything's OK.
There's not much rain. We'll be OK. And then, when the levees
Esteban Gershanik, 12
breached, you start seeing things on TV that, for me, it [became a]
heart wrenching moment. I realized that, who else would be better to
go the city to help out than [me] -- I'm a physician. I know the city. I
know every part of the city. I could help out and be a part of it and see
what I could do. I was text-messaging, trying to get in touch with
people, friends of mine that were at the different hospitals. And I got in
touch with one or two of them, that somehow went through. No one
could get in touch with my phone because it was a 504 cell phone. But
fortunately, I got in touch with two people, one at University Hospital,
who was telling me that, "There's shooting around the hospital
emergency room." And then one of my friends was also at Charity
Hospital. And so I was getting some information and communicating.
We also had a website -- not a website but more of an access server on
Yahoo! or Google that sort of was -- a couple of people were on and
getting information around. And so I had a vague idea as to what was
going on. And I knew that some of the things portrayed on TV weren't
fully true. But at the same time, you feel helpless. And I think someone
who's always been -- 1 think -- and it's always been my nature to try to
help. And I think, for everyone, it's sort of hard when you feel like you
can't help the city and the people that you grew up with -- and around
you. And so -- especially when you feel like you can be of use and help
out in one way or the other, and you realize that they're not getting any
help. I just felt drawn to do something. So I was staying in downtown
Esteban Gershanik, 13
Chicago and actually the networks are around there. And so I got in
touch with one of the radio stations and got in touch with the NBC
affiliate there and sort of was telling them the information that I had
from my people in New Orleans. And then I also tried to see if there
was any way I could back to New Orleans. And I was staying with one
of my best friends up there. And he knows sort of my nature. I sort of
tend to go to where the trouble is instead of letting things sort of pass
by. And so I kept on calling on the phone to see when I could get to
New Orleans or to Baton Rouge or somewhere. And finally, I think it
was Thursday or Friday night after the storm -- Thursday night, where I
kept on calling, they canceled all my tickets because they weren't going
to New Orleans. And they were able to get me on -- I think it was the
last seat, on Northwest. I was going through Memphis at 5:00 in the
morning, to Baton Rouge. And so I hopped on that plane. And the day
[before], I got in touch with the volunteer coordinator for positions, on
the phone, who ended up being one of my staff, who I knew, and just
went down there, knowing that my dad was, at that time, staying at a
hotel in Baton Rouge. But not as worried knowing that he was staying
there but knowing that, if I got there, I could do something about what
was going on.
Mmm hmm. So when did you realize your father was out of Memorial?
I mean --
Esteban Gershanik, 14
EG: My mom got in touch with me Tuesday night, Tuesday night or
Wednesday. Yeah, Tuesday night, I believe it was, late at night. It was
either Tuesday night or Wednesday. I'm not sure exactly. My mom
called me and said, "Your dad's OK." He was fortunate to get a hotel
room, because his administrative assistant's son goes to LSU and
looked around and found something for him. So that's how I heard. It
was more always -- you know, in any chaotic situation you're always
running around. I guess the time goes by so fast. You're trying to
figure out what's going on. And I believe that was just my mom calling
me. And eventually I tried calling my dad, nonstop, and eventually I
RH: Mmm hmm. So you said one of your staff. Tell me what your position
is, when --
EG: When the hurricane hit, I was a resident. I was in my residency
program in internal medicine-pediatrics at Tulane. We work at the
various hospitals in New Orleans, Tulane Hospital, Charity Hospital,
University Hospital, the VA Hospital, and Ochsner. And so this was one
of my pediatric staff that was now working at the central office. And I
called and I heard her voice and I gave my name. And as soon as I
gave my name, she's like, "Oh, Esteban, it's me. And I'll see what I can
do," you know, "I'll coordinate for you to go somewhere. If you come
down, I'll make sure that there's somewhere you can work." And so
that just sort of triggered in my head, "I have to get down there
Esteban Gershanik, 15
somewhere." At one point there was a radio show on WGN that was
going to get me on the air to try to get me on a ride down to New
Orleans. Because there was some truckers and shippers and all these
people that were going to go down to bring whatever they could to
help out. And fortunately, I found this flight and was able to get there
sooner than later.
RH: Yeah. So then you got to Baton Rouge. And tell me what happened
EG: I got to the Baton Rouge airport. I found out one of the guys that was
on the plane with me was someone who had gone to med school with
me a couple years above me. And he had informed me that a mutual
friend of ours was already volunteering, for the last day or so. We met
up with him. He was actually working where my staff was working, as
well. Ran into my staff, got credentialed, and then hopped on an
ambulance. And initially we thought we were going to go out to the
Chalmette, St. Bernard region, because we were informed that they
needed help out there. But there was a lot of [chaos and] it was a slow
process. You thought that as soon as you would arrive you could go
out there and just go and help. And it seemed as though things were
always delayed, delayed, and delayed. So as soon as I got there, it
wasn't as though I could just sort of hop out, go, and help out. It sort of
took a couple hours, and until we eventually left. I stopped by, said hi
to my dad, told him, "I'm going to go try to help out in this." And so,
Esteban Gershanik, 16
soon enough, we hopped on an ambulance. We had our fishing boots
to protect us from the water and some other equipment with us. And
eventually, instead of going down to the St. Bernard, Chalmette area,
we ended up going to the East Jefferson Hospital, the Causeway, and
the airport to help out. And ironically enough, some of the people that
were driving us in the ambulances weren't from the area, so I was
directing them how they had to get from one point to the other. And
prior to getting into New Orleans, you would stop in LaPlace and go
through the military, fill up with gas, and then continue on.
RH: Mmm hmm. So what was it like? What were you doing and how did it
EG: It was sort of surreal. You never -- going in, there was sort of a sign -- it
didn't kick in until you eventually got there. And you didn't know what
to anticipate. There was all this media coverage, where you thought
people were shooting people all over the place, it was dangerous,
people were in dire straits, people were acting ruthless. It sort of
portrayed, I feel, the worst image you could imagine. Not saying that
this wasn't a tragedy at all. People were stuck in their houses. Many of
my friends and colleagues had issues with their families, trying to get
them out. And some of them used different raft devices, canoes, boats
to get people out. And once you entered, it was a combination of
nervousness and unpredictability, that you weren't sure what you were
going to experience. Initially, it's the shock of seeing [everything].
Esteban Gershanik, 17
There was a slow advancement of shock. You see the railroad tracks
on the right, over the water, bent. You see trees fallen down. You see
-- and the closer you got back into the city, you know, you're going
through Kenner, Metairie, you kept on seeing more and more buildings
flattened. And that was just in the Metairie and Kenner area, where
there wasn't much flooding. And I think, as the group -- it was a group
of doctors and nurses that were on board and first-responders. We all
wanted to go to where we felt like the need was the greatest, and
where we assumed was more where the flooding was, Lower Ninth
Ward, Chalmette, St. Bernard, downtown New Orleans. You know, we
assumed these areas were where they needed the most help, Mid-City,
Lakeview. And we were turned away and told not to go that far. And
so it was sort of an awkward silence when we entered the city, too.
There was no one around. The first place we showed up, at East
Jefferson [Hospital], it was chaotic. They said they needed help but
they said they had enough doctors and nurses and ambulances there.
The first group of first-responders we met said that half their crew left
because they didn't want to be there or ~ the way they sort of phrased
it initially, they made it seem like they were so traumatized by the
experience that they had to leave. And so it was sort of ~ we still
hadn't seen what the traumatic experience was. So sort of we're in this
ghost town. It was like one of those old Westerns, where you enter a
ghost town and all you see is the sand and the air. We're still entering
Esteban Gershanik, 18
this ghost town where there's no one on the streets. But we see a little
damage here and there. After that we decided, "Well, if they don't need
our help here at East Jefferson Hospital, we're going to go and see,"
what the Causeway looked like. So then we went off to the Causeway.
And it was the remnants of the 3,000 people, that were there. It was
just a handful that were left there. The Port-o-lets were there. Clothes,
trash were all in the streets. And we saw five or six people there, that
we ended up picking up. One was just a child without his parents, with
his aunt or -- 1 think it was his cousin or aunt that he was with. And
then there was a couple of other random people that we just sort of --
with their bags of all their clothes or remnants. They just hopped in.
We gave them some food and drink. And then we just headed off to
the airport, because we knew that there was a bunch of people at the
airport. And there was a huge triage center as well. It was one of the
Disaster Medical Assistant Teams that were there. So it was made into
a big triage center. And once we got over there, that's when you saw
the tens of thousands of people that were no longer in the city but had
been helicoptered out or brought by bus or by some aspect, to be
RH: Mmm hmm. So were you able to put yourself --? I mean, this is like
the first day and you're --
EG: This is the first day.
RH: -- kind of trying to find a place to help, since in a sense -- (laughs)
Esteban Gershanik, 19
Right. And I think everyone was trying to find -- everyone had the
sense of wanting to help. And you just -- you know that help is needed,
from everything that you see. And so we finally get there and, you
know, fortunately for the child, we ended up, through the thousands of
people -- I don't know how we found his parents but somehow we
found his parents. And that was sort of an awkward -- not an awkward
-- a sort of a -- It was an experience that, you just realized how
traumatic this was, how separated people were, how chaotic, and how
important that -- you know, some people that were able to find
themselves. So it was -- But then, once we got there, you just had
people locked in buses after buses after buses. It was sort of nonstop.
People were [without] any food or any drink. They were still waiting in
line to get food and drink. You saw the airplanes coming in and leaving
and the helicopters coming in and leaving every couple of minutes. It
was sort of a nonstop -- you saw people -- where you normally pick up
people from the airport, from the baggage claim, you just see them
lined out for roughly a mile, just waiting, in the heat. And we went and
we tried to find the people in charge, the General and some other
people that were in charge for the military and the medical assistance.
And we're like, "We're here to help out." Fortunately, they let us help
out. They realized that they could use us. But again, we waited
another half hour, hour, hour-and-a-half until they realized how they
could help us out. And it was just complete chaos. No one really knew
Esteban Gershanik, 20
[what was going on]. No one was on the same page. No one knew
exactly how they were going to do things. It was in the second or third
day of the triage system at the airport, so things were moving a little bit
smoother. And people just kept on coming in. But the numbers were
sort of endless. Eventually, we got to helping and triaging people at
the airport. And I was sort of located downstairs with a team of four or
five of us -- well, probably five of us. And we had the military down
there with their AK-47s and all their big equipment. And we had sort of
a fence up. And so people were sort of lined up to go into the first floor
of the airport. And then they would be sort of -- they would then
designate them to a separate part of the airport. And if, at any time,
anyone was sort of sick, we would bring them out and triage them
through. The awkward moment was if someone would pass out or if
someone would say, "Hey, we need medical assistance." If we were to
go out to help them, the military would have to follow us. So a lot of
times some of us sort of went out there and the military would sort of
run after us. And we would just try to help out, not seeing through the
lines of whether it was dangerous or not, and just trying to help [where]
we could. What sort of stood out for me was how appreciative a lot of
these people were, after being trapped in their houses for five, six days.
You know, there wasn't that rampant chaos that we sort of think was, at
times, portrayed on TV or heard about on TV. But I had a lot of kids
and family just say all I could give them was water and some crackers
Esteban Gershanik, 21
or just random snacks. "Thank you. Thank you, very much." "Can I
have one or two?" "OK, thank you." They were very appropriate, for
being in a situation that was so traumatizing and so desperate. At the
same time, you also had a mix of everyone out there, so with all the
good people were an occasional bad person or two that, a lot of times,
the military or the police were trying to make sure they got all the
group that was causing the chaos into a separate location, and sort of
pushed them to another location so that it wouldn't cause chaos
amongst the rest.
RH: Mmm hmm. So could you explain to me, when you triage somebody,
what that means?
EG: Yeah. We have sort of different -- In a disaster situation, you have sort
of different locations based on the [urgency of the diagnosis.] And it's
the same thing that works in emergency rooms. Based on the critical
nature of the patient, you put them into their level of where they need
to be. If someone's in critical condition, they usually need immediate
care. So in the airport they had flags up, a red flag, a yellow flag, a
green flag, a blue flag, and a black flag, to sort of designate the critical
nature of where you would triage a patient. The day before, they had a
black flag area, that I didn't see the day I was there, which was more
people that were already on their way [to] dying, I mean, whether it
was someone with multiple conditions that the heat and three days --
or just -- you know, in any situation, on any day, you're going to have
Esteban Gershanik, 22
people that are elderly [and ill], that may have multiple [medical]
conditions, that there isn't much you can do for. You can try to send
them out but they're already there. Those were in a separate location,
the day before I arrived. And they weren't as much -- they had sort of a
group of the nursing home location, where you were there trying to get
all the elderly and nursing home patients in sort of a separate area, so
they could triage them to wherever they were triaging them to, which
means wherever they were going to send them to afterwards, whether
it would be Baton Rouge or somewhere else across the United States.
Red was for the more critical patients, people who needed to be seen
right away, have some type of intervention. Yellow was sort of like the
yellow light, a warning. They're not critical but they need medical
attention. And the other ones are sort of for more lesser intensity. So
triaging is sort of, based on the critical nature -- or how bad or how
severe the symptoms are in a patient, you would sort of allocate them
to where they needed to be.
RH: And so were most of these people flown out at some point?
EG: Yeah. Most of them were flown out. We also had some - [that] were
brought in by either buses, helicopters, or ambulances, from what I
saw that first day. And some people actually walked to the airport.
RH: It's quite a walk.
EG: Yeah. And as soon as they would come in through the helicopter or
the ambulance or [whatever mode of transportation], they would come
Esteban Gershanik, 23
through one area, we would give them their water or their crackers or
snacks, and, if something would happen to one of them -- you know, a
lot of people were going five or six days without their medications.
Some people hadn't had their medications in months. Just from how
things were normally in their lives, they just couldn't afford
medications. And the extreme heat, along with their lack of food, the
lack of [medications], sort of put their condition overboard. And a
diabetic may be going into what's called diabetic ketoacidosis, when
they don't have the insulin for their sugar and they go into an acidotic
state, which can be very critical. So someone then would need fluids
and liquids, because they can become severely dehydrated. They need
their insulin. They need to be watched. And [of] a critical nature. So
those patients would move to [the] red area [because they were an
emergency]. Some people didn't have fluids for a while and were
dehydrated. We had one child that was 12 years old -- or ten or 12
years old that passed out. And we didn't know why they passed out.
Didn't wake up, initially. So we had to rush him to that red location and
sort of figure things out, get some initial labs and do some things to
sort of --
EG : Or not get initial labs but just sort of do some initial interventions.
Because your resources were limited, at the time.
Esteban Gershanik, 24
RH: Well, so this was a young man -- You said that, when you went to one
of those areas, you were allowed one caregiver?
EG: Yeah, one caregiver -- so you had these families that could be
anywhere from one or two people to ten, 15, 20 people, a group of
families, that were waiting in these lines of -- 1 mean, it had to be at
least tens of thousands of people waiting to sort of get into the airport.
And [with] this one child, we were given instructions by the disaster
medical action teams, the military, and the medical -- the generals, and
[everyone else working] that, if someone needed triage/needed
additional medical attention, you would have to get them, along with
one other person from their family, and you could bring them, together.
This one child, he was in a family of four. It was him, his sister, his
mom, and his dad. I brought him [with his dad] through and I could
see that his mom and his sister were part of those tens of thousands of
people [left behind]. They weren't going to get through the airport.
They weren't going to be flown anywhere. They were probably going
to just wait there throughout the night. And who knows where they
would end up? And so they gave us these instructions -- one family
member with the patient. And the dad told me, "Hey, what can I do for
my wife and my daughter?" And so what I ended up creating or doing
was, in order for the family not to be dispersed, I gave the sister
another diagnosis, eventually not having her be seen, and just had
them all come through, in order for them to [come together].
Esteban Gershanik, 25
RH: So they wouldn't be separated.
RH: There was chaos. I mean, people had a hard time finding people who
were sick, I understand.
RH: They didn't necessarily know where they went.
EG: Yeah, a lot of people assumed that there was a system intact but when
you were working there you just really never felt that there was
something definite. You tried to sort of make what you could of the
situation and get the best solution that you could. You know, there
weren't all the medications in the world that you would normally see at
a hospital or at a clinic. There weren't all the resources. You would just
sort of make with what you could and go from there.
RH: Mmm hmm. So how long were you there at the airport?
EG: The airport, we ended up staying throughout the day to the night. We
came back and were scheduled to work at a separate [location], what
was called a generalized or a special needs shelter in Baton Rouge, that
night at 1 :00 in the morning. So a couple of the doctors stayed at the
airport. Fortunately, also, ironically, at the time, I ran into some of my
colleagues that I had worked with before the storm, in my residency,
and different staff, at the airport when I was working there temporarily.
And so some of the doctors stayed, slept the night there on the floors
or wherever they could. We ended up coming back in the ambulance.
Esteban Gershanik, 26
And then we drove to a separate location in Baton Rouge where
supposedly they had created all these different general needs or special
needs shelters for people who still needed medical attention. One of
the locations was an old Kmart building that they changed into a big
triage center. Again, you had your red, your yellow, your green. You
had resources. You had medications. And they're anticipating a lot of
the people from New Orleans to be coming there. And so we went by.
We saw how things were working. There were some nurses there,
there were some people working there, but there weren't any patients,
at that point. And then there was also the Pete Maravich Center on
LSU's campus, [which] was made into a big triage center, a special
needs/general needs shelter as well, where we saw a lot of patients.
We brought buses there as well. And that's where some physicians
saw patients for the first week after the storm. After that it seemed like
some of the locations sort of died down after a while. And there
[continued] still this sort of unpredictable nature of, when you would all
of a sudden see patients and [then] you wouldn't. So there was always
a guessing routine to how many more evacuees would be showing up,
how many first-responders we'd need [for] help. There was sort of
uncertainty as to how many people actually needed the help
[everywhere we went].
And your reflection on it is kind of interesting, because you said that it
was chaos, that sometimes you'd have people there who were more
Esteban Gershanik, 27
interested in being interviewed (laughs) on the news -- or by news
media and that nobody was sitting and figuring out was going on and,
if you did that, you kind of started to get more responsibility.
EG: Well, the first day at the airport, [there was] media from around the
world. I remember there was a moment when -- 1 think it was either
one of the Japanese stations. They were trying to get camera clips of
people in the critical area. And they're going over the screens, they're
going on top of chairs. And you saw media from around the world
trying to get pictures and snapshots of what was going on. And then
you had people interviewing with all these networks from around the
world. And at times it seemed -- again, I use the word surreal.
Because it was. You have this catastrophe and people are taking the
time to get in front of the camera and say something. And yet still
they're not really sure what exactly is going on. At the same notion, no
one can be at all the locations at the same time. The catastrophe was
so immense that the various levee breaches, the various flooding -- it
wasn't just one location. It was throughout. And so to have accurate
information about the millions of people that were affected by this was
difficult. So what you started to find out was that, whether the
information was accurate or not --
RH: So, being a native you had an advantage. Like they were sending some
people to a place you thought was underwater. So there was probably
Esteban Gershanik, 28
EG: Yeah. As a native, you have an idea as to what locations and what's
occurring. Considering -- at the Emergency Operations Center --
throughout the next couple days we started seeing the maps as to
where [the flooding was]. And so I was fortunate in the sense that I had
good bearings of the city and had traveled through Lakeview, Mid-City,
New Orleans East, the Gentilly area, St. Bernard, Chalmette. Having
traveled through the area, I had the bearings as to what was going on
and where. And I think a lot of the people that came into town -- which
was great. I mean, it was great to see that so many people were willing
to come help their fellow citizens in an area that they're not familiar
with. But at the same time, I think they weren't really sure where they
were going, what they were doing, or where the flooding was exactly
or where the help was needed.
RH: Mmm hmm. And how did you start to take on more responsibility --
EG: After the first day I sort of realized that everything was chaotic. So on
the second day -- if you can call it a second day, because really we got
two hours of sleep and went back out -- there was a center where all
the ambulances were located, where the Wildlife and Fishery was
located, where they credentialed the physicians, the nurses, and where
everything was sort of allocated, at one point. There was actually two
centers. But that one center was sort of at the Jimmy Swaggart World
Ministry building, which was a combination of the Department of
Esteban Gershanik, 29
Health and Hospitals, Office of Public Health, the Emergency
Operations, all sort of in one.
RH: That was in Baton Rouge.
EG: In Baton Rouge. There was also a separate Emergency Operations
Center where different entities were sort of sitting down and sort of
creating their own little center as to what they were trying to do, and
sharing information. And so what I tried to do, as my colleagues were
going on these military planes and sort of experiencing the military
experience of it -- because the only way you could sometimes get in
was through the military helicopters, the special helicopters, the
ambulances, going through different areas by boat with the Louisiana
Wildlife and Fishery. I just tried to figure out what was going on. I was
answering phone calls. At one point I was credentialing doctors. And
then I was figuring out why things weren't working together, why this
doctor wasn't going to this location because the ambulance left or why
the Wildlife and Fishery guys were leaving at 5:30 in the morning but
they didn't have a doctor go with them. Everything was chaotic.
Nothing was fluid. Nothing was being efficient. And each entity --
everyone was sort of helping in their own way but not working with
one another. So a simple question as to how do you get medications
with you or how do you bring medications to that location was you
have to go to the medication room or to the National Stockpile. And
sometimes people didn't know that. Or, "How can we get
Esteban Gershanik, 30
vaccinations?" That's a separate department. That's the Immunization
and Vaccination Department. "How do you decide where we're going?"
"Oh, that's the Central Command," where the ambulances and first-
responders are all together. And they decide where all the locations
are going. "Well, how do they know?" "Well, they get information --"
Everything was sort of separate. Then you have the people in charge,
the Office of Public Health, Department of Health and Hospitals.
They're on their own separate conference calls for the information that
they're getting and incorporating. [Also, many] people in those routine
-- not routine -- some people who were already in positions of power
were dispersed and weren't in New Orleans or Baton Rouge [so there
was a vacancy of leadership]. Some people from the New Orleans
Health Department, I remember, were in Dallas or Houston. So
sometimes things weren't together. They weren't fluid. They were so
preoccupied with what they were doing that they didn't have the time
to figure it out. And even though I didn't have the time, I tried to figure
it out. And then, I think by day one that I was there, people realized --
somehow they listened to me. And I figured out how things were
being done. And so, by the next day, I was coordinating which doctors
were going where, what ambulance they were hopping on -- or what
first-responders and ambulance were going with them, which nurses
were going with them, and making sure they're all going to the same
location, talking to Central Command to figure out what information
Esteban Gershanik, 31
they got compared to the information I got on my phones that
somehow got through, and just coordinating it all together, the Wildlife
and Fishery as well. Because at different points, no one was really on
the same page. Everyone was sort of in their own separate world
trying to do what they could. And eventually all the evacuees were
being dispersed across the state and there weren't as many in that
central location that they were originally. And then the water was sort
of coming down some and different areas were having more access
than others. And at the same time, from a religious perspective, you
had a lot of the churches and synagogues, different religious
establishments, taking people in, across the entire state. So all of a
sudden you have a church in, let's say Folsom, or a church in Bush,
Louisiana, and different spots around that all of sudden had 120 people
staying with them, some that need fluids, some that need medication,
some that need vaccinations. And at that point, no one was still really
certain as to what the exposures were, whether people definitely
needed a tetanus or a hepatitis A, a hepatitis B. The CDC still hadn't
fully incorporated themselves into it and see what was break -- and no
one knew. So at that point, the chaos of it was still they need all these
vaccinations, they need these medications. They were still trying to
sort of figure everything out. And also, no one knew what their
resources were. So I think no one really did the inventory or figure out
Esteban Gershanik, 32
what was available and then how they incorporate it and make it
efficient and put it into place.
RH: Wow. So how long did you do this?
EG: (laughs) Initially, it seemed as though, before other people started
coming back into their positions -- 1 guess for a couple months. My
residency sort of took a little [break]. For the first month, everyone was
sort of given a [pass] -- not a leave of absence but they sort of figured
out where everybody was. They tried to put them in locations where
they had a more certain, secure location. Some people ended up doing
their residency -- or continue their residency in a [separate program] --
whether it was in Chicago or New York or Birmingham or in a city
where they're from -- to continue their training. And a lot of those
residency programs allowed them to come and accepted them with
open arms in the transient time. And our coordinators tried to
coordinate as much as they could to make sure that they still had a
structure for all of us. Throughout -- having this access to all these
locations, I ended up calling some of my colleagues and some of my
staff and saying, "This is a great opportunity for us to sort or
reincorporate ourselves here and sort of stay true to what our message
is, which is taking care of the people of New Orleans and Louisiana."
And we had set up some clinics around town. Initially they were
makeshift clinics. One was at the Omni Hotel -- the Royal Hotel. It was
all locations where the New Orleans Police Department were, at one
Esteban Gershanik, 33
point. The First District Police Department was right across the street
from the Covenant House. Eventually we had just sort of just a table,
medications and doctors we would send out there. And eventually one
of the nurse practitioners, PAs, and doctors were telling us that, "We
may be able to get into that Covenant House next door." And the cops
helped us get in there. And sure enough, after about a couple weeks
we also got in touch with the head of the Covenant House. And then
we sort of incorporated the residents that we were friends with to man
it. We had our staff come down and help out. That's now developed
into a [complete clinic]. And we got some of the people involved, at
the high level at our institution, to finally discuss what they could do
with the clinic. And two, three, four months down the line, it became
an established clinic, that we now are using until today.
RH: So it's still going at the Covenant House.
EG: It's still going. Now it has a full structure. It has electronic health
record. They're sending uninsured patients, both kids and adults.
They've gotten grants from Qatar, $5 million from Qatar, a Robert
Wood Johnson grant as well. They've gotten a ton of resources. And
it's working beautifully. It's working great. It's serving as sort of these
ideal community health centers that they're trying to work. Another
location that we had was right in front of Harrah's by where the Spanish
Plaza is. We set up a tent -- or a table there. And we're giving
vaccinations to all the workers and all the people that were still in the
Esteban Gershanik, 34
area that came by. At one point we got the Palmer Bascom
Ophthalmology Group from the University of Miami, who came in, who
are top line with ophthalmology -- come in. And they started doing
free screenings and giving eyeglasses and diagnosing people, some
access that some people in New Orleans actually never really had. And
we eventually had a new van come in there that we incorporated from
The Children's Health Fund. The Children's Health Fund is an
organization in New York started by Paul Simon and his high school
friend, Dr. Friedlander, who -- oh, not Dr. Friedlander -- I'm blanking out
his name right now. It's killing me.
EG: Oh, let me get to that in a second. I'm sort of embarrassed. I forgot
now. But The Children's Health Fund is an organization that improves
access to underserved areas. They're from New York and they -- They
started in New York. They developed in 12 other [states]. And as soon
as they heard about the tragedy, they sent a couple of units down here,
that were mobile medical units. Initially, I had gotten in contact with
them because I was sending them through what's called Region 9,
which is sort of the St. Tammany Parish area, to help out. And
eventually they came down to help out in New Orleans as well. And
eventually they got together with the pediatrics part of my med-peds
program and I had been working there as one of my pediatrics clinic for
the year-and-a-half since the storm. So we were seeing patients in
Esteban Gershanik, 35
Chalmette and in the Lower Ninth Ward, on this medical mobile unit
that they provided. And they're still here until today, and collaborated
with Tulane to sort of -- to provide services to underserved and
RH: Well, tell me, like this mobile unit -- and you're telling me that they saw
patients in Chalmette and Lower Nine. I'm sitting here thinking, how
many months into this are there people down there, Lower Nine, and
when are they starting to see people?
EG: Well, we originally -- You know, the way they sort of coordinated things
was to see where people were going. Initially, when we started the
clinics originally, it was where all the New Orleans Police Department
was. So there was one at the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street at the
Lower Garden District. There's one near Magazine. There's one at --
The Omni Hotel is where I think the Fifth or Sixth District was. So we
sort of made or clinics at those locations, where there was safety and
yet we also knew there were services needed at those locations, and
sort of spread the word. There's also -- some of the Charity residents,
the LSU Charity residents, who had stayed at Charity Hospital. And I
was also collaborating with them and trying to send resources their
way, because they were trying to keep Charity Hospital open. And they
worked with the Special Forces to [try to reopen the hospital]. They
had a German draining system that drained all of Charity Hospital. And
it actually took longer than what they thought [initially] it would
Esteban Gershanik, 36
because they didn't realize that it was connected to Tulane Medical
School as well. So they ended up draining two [buildings] at once.
And the residents in the Charity ER program, along with their staff, the
military, and some of the Tulane residents, sort of worked there to try
to clean it up. And it was actually the best we had ever seen the
Charity Hospital look for a couple days. The first four floors were
spotless. And we had even sent this one gentleman from -- oh, I'm
forgetting where he was from exactly -- had a generator to turn on a
small city or a huge building. And he was a previous military person.
And so he was working with the Special Forces and saying, "How can
we turn this entire building on?" And the Special Forces had related to
us that, whenever they're in another country, what they would do
would try to open up a location that was pertinent from both a resource
standpoint and also from an emotional or purposeful standpoint. And
so they were trying to open Charity Hospital with us at the same time.
And eventually that led to the Charity staff deciding -- or the Charity
hierarchy deciding that no one should be in there. And they sort of
kicked everyone out at one point and said, "There's no trespassing here.
Don't try that. It's not going to work. The building has too much
damage." So it was unique seeing everyone trying to work to make
things move forward and still do their service to the city. And
eventually things just sort of led to, wherever we found out people
Esteban Gershanik, 37
were, we would try to go to those locations and establish a way that we
could serve them.
RH: So were you coordinating a lot of this?
EG: Initially, I was and then eventually we got more and more people into it.
So as more of us got involved -- We found out where everyone was
when we initially -- Just to sort of take a step back, a group of us were
coordinating it. Initially, I was sort of the first person there. Eventually,
you started seeing people get involved and realizing the contribution
they could make. (I think he's trying to tell you something.)
RH: OK. Keep going. We have a few more minutes here.
EG: Originally, you realized everyone wanted to get involved. And I think,
once they saw, initially what I had done, what myself and some of my
colleagues had done together, they realized the magnitude of what was
occurring. And initially, you know, we were just residents, before the
storm. Soon after the storm, we're in charge of roughly the healthcare
of the region. And when we went to sort of help out at Charity, we
went to the Naval Command Center on the [naval ship] they had, two
Jima, and we said, "Hey, we're volunteers with the Emergency
Operation Center, the Department of Health and Hospitals." And the
head of the military medical team for Katrina, the medical assistance,
found out we were on board and stopped us and said, "Hey, I really
Esteban Gershanik, 38
need to talk to you all. I haven't found anyone with the Department of
Health and Hospitals, the Office of Public Health, and CEOs of the
hospitals. Do you know where they are? We're meeting at Ochsner
tomorrow with the Office of Public Health, the CDC. We're going to
have our meetings there every day at this time. And you need to get
people to go over there." And we sort of relayed the information.
Again, it was a matter of getting accurate information, communicating
person-to-person, and then relaying it back to our resources and then
getting people involved. And soon enough we all got involved and saw
how things were playing out ~ and talking to the head people who
were getting involved with everything that was going on. And we also
opened up a lot of locations on the West Bank and by the Convention
Center, where we got the military involved to take down some doors of
the New Orleans Health Department clinics, and we just sort of manned
those clinics, in areas that we felt had to be served. Eventually, the
hierarchy came into being, into people that were sort of displaced and
didn't realize what was going on, sort of ran with what we had started
and realized that they could reestablish what was going on. And so, for
the month of October, instead of rejoining my residency, they allowed
myself and a couple of my colleagues, who, we all sort of worked
together to get a lot of these things done, they allowed us to sort of
continue to work on some of these primary care committees we had
started, some of these operations committee that we had gotten
Esteban Gershanik, 39
involved with. And we worked jointly with them in order to get our
residency reestablished back in New Orleans.
RH: OK. Let's take a break from --
RH: [It's sort of m?]--
ENDOF AUDIO FILE 1
M1: We're rolling.
RH: All right. This is tape two of Katrina's Jewish Voices, with Esteban
Gershanik. Tell me -- Now, you said too that Rita came. And what
happened with Rita? What --?
EG: Well, it was -- You know, a lot of the shelters that were general needs
shelters, special needs shelters, to serve people, and medical
conditions, who needed help, were in Lafayette, were in Lake Charles,
were in Shreveport. There were primarily more in the southwest and
the nearest the city that you could get to New Orleans. And so, once
Rita was coming, three weeks later [from Katrina], some of those
shelters had to be shut down temporarily. So we ended up going from
Baton Rouge, at one point, and going to Lafayette, once the storm was
sort of passing by. And you realize the magnitude of these hurricanes
once you're driving after they're passing by. The latter end of the storm
was going through Louisiana, at that point, and I was driving a van for
the Office of Public Health. And we're on the highway, going 70, 80
Esteban Gershanik, 40
miles per hour, to get there as soon as we can with the ambulances.
And you could just feel the van move with the wind. And it was a
pretty frightening moment for me, because here I am driving and the
van just sort of moving on me. (laughs)
RH: On its own.
EG: And there's some wet conditions and -- but we had to sort of clear
some of their shelters, send people further up north, and then reopen
some of the locations. So there was like the Cajun Dome, I guess, the
Hymann Center -- or Heymann Center, and in Lafayette as well, that we
had to reestablish and make them back into shelters for medical needs,
general and special needs.
RH: They were starting to take in Texans.
RH: Is that right?
RH: Because of Rita.
EG: Yeah. Some of them would come back this way. And it's sort of funny.
I mean, I -- or not funny but -- 1 had some friends that left to Houston
and then were leaving to come back because it was coming towards
Houston, were going to Baton Rouge, and then were leaving back to
Lafayette. And they kept on moving around. They were sort of in no
man's land. Wherever they tried to move, it seemed like some natural
disaster was coming at them and they were told to evacuate. But with
Esteban Gershanik, 41
Rita, you know, fortunately -- I mean, the hardest part, for Rita, from my
standpoint was that we went to sort of reestablish this center. We
brought what we needed. We established what was needed. Some of
the people were already in Lafayette. They had established a shelter
beforehand. So they were accessible and had coordinated things
better than previously, for Katrina. And then, when I had come back
that evening, that evening of Rita passing by and setting up the shelter,
the Central Command office got a call saying that one of the nursing
homes in that area needed to be evacuated. And I had just spent all
day over there and just come back. And they sort of looked at me and I
was like, "I'll go back there if you all need me to." And eventually,
somehow it was worked out and somehow these people from -- I don't
know if it was from Lafayette or Lake Charles -- were sort of evacuated
from that region. But you just realized just the resources were dying
down and -- And the chaotic nature of all these events always led to
something new popping up, and another need. Whether it's, at 1 :00 in
the afternoon or 1 :00 in the morning, there was always something that
just sort of randomly popped up throughout the evening.
RH: Wow! So you stayed in Lafayette for a month. Is that right?
EG: I stayed in Baton Rouge --
RH: I mean Baton Rouge --
EG: -- in Baton Rouge --
RH: -- for a month.
Esteban Gershanik, 42
EG: -- for about a month.
RH: And was your family there at all or --?
EG: My father eventually -- my father initially was evacuated to the Comfort
Suites, off of College Drive in Baton Rouge. I [had] never spent much
time in Baton Rouge. I had been to a couple of LSU football games [in
the past]. Other than that, I hadn't spent much time there. He initially
was sort of nervous because he assumed that maybe something
happened to their house. So he was looking to buy a house on the
market, possibly. We had some friends in Baton Rouge, actually that
we met through friends of ours from the Jewish community in New
Orleans [who] had moved to Baton Rouge. And so they provided us
some resources. We looked into things. My brother had moved, with
his wife and their child, to Baton Rouge. His in-laws were staying with
them in Baton Rouge. So they rented an apartment. My dad was
staying with my mom and I in this hotel, once my mom came back
from Mississippi and then Florida. Because they went from Mississippi
to Florida and then came to Baton Rouge. And they were trying to
figure out whether they needed to buy a house or rent a house in Baton
Rouge. Still, at that time, no one really knew what was going on in
New Orleans. There was all these rumors of people breaking into
houses, things not functional, not able to go back. I think people heard
of that for the first couple of weeks. Eventually, fortunately for my dad,
being a physician he was able to get into town a little bit easier. I also
Esteban Gershanik, 43
sort of took a look at the house to see how things were going. And,
you know, everyone had this doubt of whether they needed to buy
something or not -- or move to Baton Rouge for a while. And that was
shared amongst my family, whether we needed to move to Baton
Rouge for a while before we could go back. Because, you know,
possibly your house wasn't there. Possibly your job was no longer
there. What were you to do?
RH: So also, what about the place you lived? Because you're pretty close to
the 17th Street Canal.
EG: Yeah. Initially, when I was in Chicago, the angles they were showing
on all the major networks sort of made it seem like it wasn't the
Lakeview side of the 17th Street Canal. They made it look like more it
was the Jefferson Parish side of the 17th Street Canal. And so at first I
thought I was in the clear. But as soon as you got additional
information, you started realizing that that was on my side, (laughs) I
live in a condo that's elevated, so I was on a higher floor, thinking that I
wouldn't have had any damage. I knew my car was going to be gone,
because it was only six blocks away from the breach. And once I finally
got to my car, I got to see that -- it was my first car ever, that I had just
bought three or four years before. And these leather seats now had a
nice little algae, greenish-grayish look to them. It was more like fur
seats now. And the car next to it actually had a couple of fish in it.
(laughter) So I was actually sort of upset that I didn't get any fish and
Esteban Gershanik, 44
that the car next to me got some fish. And some things I'd left in my
car were destroyed. And then, when I took a look at my condo, I
actually had gotten some mold and some water from some floors
above me, where their windows had popped. And the electrical
system, the elevator, and the whole first floor of my building was sort
of completely demolished. I mean, the windows and doors and panes
were all cracked in. A lot of it was missing. The water actually came
from the breach from the levee and it hit the other levee that's right in
front of my condo and then put additional pressure onto the condo
complex. So I knew it was going to take a little time.
RH: So [a thing?] -- 1 would just say, it's kind of fascinating because it came
from the canal towards Lake Pontchartrain, the water came, and then
stopped at a levee that keeps like Pontchartrain in.
EG: From falling over into Lake --
RH: And then came back into your condo.
RH: It's amazing --
EG: Or to the condo complex.
RH; -- the way the water -- the apartment, the building.
EG: Yeah. Yeah, it gave it a little bit of an extra wave, an extra push. But
that was all the -- and the inception of it. And later on, the security
Esteban Gershanik, 45
guard told me how they tried to maneuver things so that the electricity
wouldn't be completely destroyed and how the Fire Department ended
up staying here, because it was a location -- and then people were
embarking on their boats here so that they could tie them up to the
second floor, so they could have a stationed location. So.
RH: Tying it up to the second floor.
EG: Yeah, (laughs)
EG: You have enough water up high to help out.
EG: But, I mean, fortunately for me, I mean, I was able to move back into
my condo. I'm above water. It took a while to move back in. My
parents' house was for the most part OK, except for a couple windows
here and there. My brother's house was OK. They both live in uptown
New Orleans. All I really lost was a car, that I got some money back on.
And I was able to sort of eventually move in after some work. Not
everything is perfect yet but compared to everyone else, I mean, my
family and I are very fortunate.
RH: So did you connect at all with the Jewish community in Baton Rouge or
did your family?
EG: Well, you know, soon after Katrina we had Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur. And we knew some people in the area. I was so busy, I
actually didn't sleep for the first two, three nights, I guess, I was in
Esteban Gershanik, 46
Baton Rouge. I was working nonstop. The adrenaline, I guess, sort of
got me through the night. And then I was averaging two hours of sleep
a night for about a month-and-a-half. And my dad will make the joke
that, you know, here he is trying to sleep and here I walk in at 2:00 in
the morning to use the bathroom. He could see the light come on.
And then he would see the light come on again at 4:00 in the morning,
so I could take a shower and leave or just wash up. And so he knew
exactly how much time I was exactly staying in the hotel, because the
bathroom ended being right in front of his bed, so each time the light
went on he can see me waking him up. But we met some people from
the New Orleans community that were transplanted to Baton Rouge
and some people that had previously moved to Baton Rouge from New
Orleans before the storm that we were familiar with. Some of them
had us over for Yom Kippur, to break the fast. And it was a really warm
welcome. The rabbi of Sinai --
EG: -- Rabbi Cohn, who's a good family friend, he actually married my
brother and his wife. And also, his daughter was in my high school
class. He was in charge of the ceremony for Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur. So it was fortunate to have a familiar face, you know, away
from that normal environment that you live in and just sort of know that
things are still cozy. You appreciate things. It's unique to have Yom
Kippur and Rosh Hashanah soon after Katrina, realizing, you know,
Esteban Gershanik, 47
what you appreciate in life and sort of add that religious perspective
into the realm of what occurred.
RH: So did it feel like kind of a suddenly some normalcy in the midst of the
chaos you were involved in or --?
EG: It never felt like normalcy.
RH: Never? (laughs)
EG: There was no sense of normalcy. The normalcy was not feeling
normal. About a month later -- or sooner than a month later, my
parents had already moved back to their house.
RH: When did they move back?
EG: Probably late September, early October -- late September. They were
already getting started on how to get things together. They were able
to refocus themselves. My brother had rented a place in Baton Rouge
for a couple months. So he was out in Baton Rouge for a couple
months. I moved in with my parents in New Orleans in order to sort of
be back in New Orleans, do what I needed to, and feel like I could be
sort of functional and make as much of a contribution as I could in the
city -- and also occasionally make trips to Baton Rouge in order to see
what I could do. At that point, I didn't have a car. I was actually
borrowing my dad's car. And then, earlier on -- or the month of
September, I had a friend of mine's car and also the people in the
Command Center, the first-responders and people in charge of the
ambulances, sort of grew a bond to me, so by the first week they gave
Esteban Gershanik, 48
me an ambulance. So that's also how I was able to sort of get around.
So it sort of facilitated me getting the work that I felt like I needed to get
RH: Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm. So how did you sustain yourself during this?
EG: You didn't think about it. I was so focused on getting what I felt like
needed to get done that I guess I wasn't tired, I wasn't as stressed. It
was almost a motivating factor. There was always something to do or
something that was left undone. And I think also the people around
you sort of realized -- everyone was so motivated to set something
done, they sort of helped out. I saw some of my colleagues [just
leave]. I know some of my colleagues that were at the hospitals when
the storm hit took off to different cities and needed time to sort of
decompress. Some people would be going out nonstop. After the
storm, some people were discussing how there was an increased
incidence of people drinking more, taking on recreational activities, sort
of a coping mechanism for them in order to sort of help out with the
stressors that came about through Katrina. The people I worked with,
they would often, after finishing at midnight -- would go out for a
couple drinks, to sort of relax, take perspective on things. I eventually
would sort of have a late night dinner with them or a drink or two,
down the line, but I never felt like I had that need to sort of
decompress. I was more focused on what needed to be done, and the
need, instead of the need for myself. I felt like there was a greater need
Esteban Gershanik, 49
or a greater duty that needed to be done, instead of having to worry
about myself. And I think sometimes we were so preoccupied with
getting something done, you're able to sort of forget about your own
RH: Right. So it occurs to me, from the last tape, from your description of
that you almost created a new form of residency, (laughs) well, you
know, another -- what do you call it, where you have a focus or a --
EG: Well, I ran into one of my staffs that I had actually gotten my Master's --
I had got my Master's in public health and health systems management
and one of my staff I ran into, he runs the Daughter of Charity clinics.
He's the CEO of it. And at all these meetings, where all the people in
charge of, whether it was primary care clinics -- or CEOs of the
hospitals, they're all at these major meetings that I was fortunate to go
to due to some of my work and after seeing what I had done, we both
discussed the notion of how it was like I had gotten a PhD in
emergency operations. And at one point I sort of looked back at what
was learned from 9/11, in reference to disasters, and it's some of the
same principles, even though 9/1 1 was sort of in one central location,
at the World Trade Center, and sort of dispersed and Katrina was sort
of throughout. You sort of realize that the main things throughout
chaotic or disaster, emergency situations are communication, making
sure you collaborate with one another. And that sort of was the key, at
points, throughout Katrina, is making sure that everyone
Esteban Gershanik, 50
communicated with one another, and not just communicating but
accurately communicating. And then learning how to work together in
order to get things done.
RH: Mmm hmm. So if you're engaged in turf, it made life a lot harder, I
EG: Yeah, and you started to see that later on in the process. I think,
initially, everyone was so vulnerable, initially, that they didn't have any
turf to work with. And, you know, eventually, as some of us were sort
of dispersed back from our new positions and then the old positions
were starting to come back in, you started to see the older turf war sort
of come through. At one point there was a hope that this would make
a -- you know, everyone thought, in New Orleans, this was a new New
Orleans, there would be no -- you know, there was no murders in the
area. Everyone's like, "It's a crime-free zone." All the schools that were
bankrupt are now -- we have a clear table, clear tablet. We can start
everything from new. And know that it was a unique experience,
because you had such hope for what -- an appreciation of New Orleans,
because of the culture, the people, the uniqueness of the city. And
then you had a hope of what New Orleans could have always become,
its potential and where it could go. And then it sort of went back to sort
of people not wanting to let go of what they knew of their position in
New Orleans. And it was sort of -- not to be lost in all of it was, still, a
lot of unique collaborations were formed, unique partnerships were
Esteban Gershanik, 51
formed with one another. But as things progressed in the recovery --
or let me change that. As things didn't progress in the recovery, people
started to learn that there's less area, there's less resources. If we still
want to be here as an entity, we have to sort of see what we can do for
ourselves and see what we can make and go from there. I don't know if
I'm making myself clear. Not that it was a bad thing, at times. But I
think, at times, some people, in order to fight for their own survival, you
just sort of -- see what they can do. And so after a while, I think, when
everyone was collaborating and trying to get things done, people's
hopes sort of weren't being fulfilled. And the more it continued, the
more it continued, the more it continued, people started to realize,
"Where are we going to go from here?"
RH: Mmm hmm. So it seems like, if I'm understanding you, that the
resources -- you realized that things weren't getting done. And so the
resources were sparser. And so it kind of deflated the hope.
EG : The resources were sparse but it was also a matter of the opportunity
for greatness. Not that things aren't great. But there's an opportunity
to make something that was new, was top of the line and there was a
moment to seize the opportunity. And I think, as people saw that
opportunity diminish, they started realizing, "We're going to have to
make do with what we have." It's sort of we're almost two years out
and people still have those false promises of how much money they're
going to get from The Road Home program. After two years of people
Esteban Gershanik, 52
using all their resources, their savings and not having nothing, there's
only so far you can go. Someone who doesn't have any resources and
all of a sudden loses their house, their job -- in a new city, going
through all their savings, if they have any savings, there's not much
more you can do.
RH: What happened when you were --? You were talking about when the
hierarchy started to come in. About when did that start to happen and
when did you start to feel the programs, I guess, more in shape of what
they had been pre-Katrina?
EG: They never eventually got completely formed to what they were pre-
Katrina. I think each person and each individual -- or each entity had
their own individual issues to deal with. Certain people had their own
unique perspectives on what they needed to do.
RH: Did you feel territorial about some of the things you created and like, "I
want these to continue."
EG: Yeah. I mean, I think it's only natural for one to feel that way.
RH: Did many of them continue? Did many of these things --?
EG: Many of them did continue. But you also realized that there are certain
people in certain positions that, that's their job. And just because
they're not there at that one time, but they returned back to it -- that it's
their duty to sort of do their work. And I was never naive to the notion
that that was going to continue the way it was going to continue. At
one point I even thought about just dropping my residency and trying
Esteban Gershanik, 53
to start something anew, just because I felt so dedicated and so
passionate about getting something done that needed to be done.
Eventually, a lot of things did occur. A lot of people took the reins and
sort of -- I guess they had to sort of take a quicker class as to learn what
had happened over the first couple weeks, the experience that I'd had
first-hand and people sort of had to get, I guess, second- or third-hand,
and sort of catch them up with things. You're a little bit territorial but,
at the same time, you want the ultimate thing to be done. So what I
ended up realizing was, as long as the job was getting done, I was sort
of happy with that. If someone else takes the reins of some of the work
that I did or my colleagues did, I think the bottom line was, as long as
whatever gets done is going to benefit the people -- and the people in
need, that was ultimately what the mission was.
RH: Mmm hmm. So what happened with Tulane and the residency
programs in the medical school?
EG: Each residency sort of had a different situation. The medical school
relocated to Houston. So the medical students went to Houston. The
residents were dispersed throughout the country. For my residency,
we had a couple that decided to change residencies. Some people had
unique personal situations for which they couldn't return to residency.
Some people had their significant others that had jobs in different
locations. Because, frankly, there weren't a lot of businesses in New
Orleans or the region at that time. Some of them discontinued. So
Esteban Gershanik, 54
some people would go to their hometown, knowing that they had a
house to stay out, and finish their residency there and get credit.
Eventually, each director was sort of creating what they could of the
situation. Some people would leave. That was for all residencies in
New Orleans and the region. Fortunately for Ochsner and East
Jefferson, their hospitals were maintained and sustained throughout
the process. So their unique residencies were continued. One of the
calls I got after the storm was actually from one of my colleagues that
was doing pediatrics at Ochsner, telling me, "Hey, can you help us get
out of here?", which eventually developed. For Tulane, for LSU -- LSU,
fortunately, had some resources in Baton Rouge. And Tulane,
eventually, was sort of trying to figure out what you could do. I mean,
everyone was sort of in the same situation of not knowing how things
were going to move forward. All we could go on was what our
superiors said was going to be the next step. And a lot of times the
answer was, "We really don't know." Some of our training was moved
to the Tulane lakeside location in Metairie, where we never worked
before. And we tried to make do and make a medicine ward and a
pediatric ward out of locations that were never medicine or pediatric
wards. And then some of us did some work at Ochsner. Eventually,
some of us also worked at West Jefferson, at one point. We did what
we could. We also -- a lot of the residents went to the clinics that my
colleagues and I created throughout the storm and sort of developed it
Esteban Gershanik, 55
into an actual established clinic. You know, now one of the clinics
serves the community and has seen at least, I think, 7,000 or 8,000
people and is fully funded. So it's --
RH: Which one is that?
EG: That's the Covenant House clinic.
RH: The Covenant.
EG: The Children's Health Fund is also seeing thousands of patients and
giving medications, vaccinations, the whole extent. So eventually
things slowly opened up. The hospital opened up in November of 2005
-- November -- around that time. We slowly --
EG: I think four or five months after the storm, the hospital reopened, not
with the same resources, not in the same situation. We made what we
could of what we had. We didn't have the same amount of nurses.
And we went from there. The VA opened up, on their ninth and tenth
floors and their parking lot, a clinic for the VA patients. And we had
access to those resources. So we'd see some of the VA patients on the
tenth floor of the VA building. And so, slowly, as things opened up, we
did what we could. All the hospitals and all the clinics in town were
full. But it was also a matter of knowing when would the evacuees
eventually come back. Because the question was are you going to
Esteban Gershanik, 56
open something if they're not going to come back? What's to come of
it? From a residency standpoint, you have to do so many rotations,
you have to see so many patients. So different program directors sort
of guided where people would be, whether they would stay in the city
that they were in. A part of our residency had moved to Alexandria,
because we had done some work previously in Alexandria. Some
people were in Biloxi. Some people were in nearby locations and in
other cities. Part of my pediatrics program had gone to Baylor. Baylor
accepted us with open hands. And University of Texas Houston,
University of Texas San Antonio, some of those locations, were where
some of the other residents were doing rotations for six months. So
some people, while they had their mortgage here, were also paying
rent over there, and trying to figure out where they were going to go
and what was going to happen. So it was a fluid time. Everyone
understood it was a fluid, transient time. We never knew what was
going to happen next month, where we were going to work, exactly.
Plans were always evolving and changing. And that was just the nature
of the beast.
RH: Oh. That's an interesting personality, to be able to deal with that
fluidity, I think.
EG: Yeah, and, you know, the irony of it is that residency is supposed to be
based on a stable time in a physician's training, where they can focus
on just learning. At times, working at Charity Hospital, University
Esteban Gershanik, 57
Hospital at Tulane, that in itself -- or at the VA Hospital -- anyone who's
ever worked in any of those hospitals knows that, in itself, it can be
chaotic often. But in all of that, you put in an ever-changing moment of
every day of your residency not knowing if you were going to see
patients, where, what. I mean, you have to learn how to transition and
-- and there were some people [who] had to leave. And some people
decided to stay. And all the power to the people who decided to stay,
because they really felt they had a mission to serve the people of the
RH: Has your networks, the people you work with, are they around --
RH: -- now, your --?
EG: I mean, most everyone moved back after about six, seven months.
There was about, I'd say, 10% of people that may have had to go
somewhere else, due to professional, personal reasons.
RH: So your colleagues -- because it does seem like a lot of people -- a lot
of physicians have left the city.
EG : A lot of physicians have. I think what gets lost throughout a lot of this
is, sort of the resident physicians, which are the physicians in training, a
lot of them stuck around. They just had a sense of wanting to stick
around in the area. And my father and I actually collaborated the work
and made a party for everybody who stayed --
RH: Oh, wow!
Esteban Gershanik, 58
EG: -- and raised money to sort of -- for their pursuits down the line, for
continued medical education. And you could see that it was a relief for
a lot of residents that they were acknowledged. A lot of times,
residents are sort of the lower people on the totem pole. They're just
doing all the work and then the staff members and everyone else sort
of gives them a little checkmark and that's it. And you could see, when
we threw this party, that a lot of people realized, "Oh, people do
appreciate us. We really need this release." And it was good to see. I
mean, 1,000 residents, I think, is what we have, total, around in the
area, somewhere around there, who just appreciated, you know,
knowing that they were appreciated --
EG: -- especially when people could -- my brother was telling me, early on
throughout the storm, that I should take advantage of the moment and
transfer somewhere else, transfer to a more acknowledged institution.
And some people ended up going to the Harvard's and to a different
location. But I think the ones that stuck around here had a unique
RH: Mmm hmm. So let's shift gears a little bit, and tell me what it's like to
live with your parents again, after you're (laughs) an adult. And how
many months did you live with your parents?
EG: Months or years? It was a year, about, that I lived with my parents --
RH: You lived a year?
Esteban Gershanik, 59
EG: -- a little bit more than a year. My old high school bed, my old high
school room. People would say, "Oh, it must be great to have people
who will do laundry and cook for you." What they forget is that, even
though I'm back in my high school room, in my high school bed, my life
isn't my high school life.
EG: And I think most people, during Katrina, experienced this. Your privacy
sort of changes. Now you're with whoever you're living with. Many
people took on their parents or their cousins or extended family in their
homes. I think my parents sometimes forget that I'm working 80-hour
weeks, at times. I'm not used to doing duties around the house like I
used to. I also used to do some work with my dad. So for him it was
just natural to ask me to do little things around the house, because I
RH: After your 80-hour week, (laughs)
EG: Yeah! A son has to do his duty, I guess.
EG: But again, at the same time, I mean, I was fortunate that I had a place to
go. I think everything throughout the storm was about perspective,
knowing what you have and what you don't have. So.
RH: Mmm hmm. What are some of the things in the city that you think are
Esteban Gershanik, 60
I think each area of the city has its own unique personality. One of the
things I always like about New Orleans is that you can go five minutes
away and the area will be completely different. You can go by the
Audubon Park area in uptown New Orleans. It has its own little feel.
You can go up Magazine, which has its own unique perspective. And
next thing you know, you're in the Garden District, which has its own
other feel. And the Lower Garden District has a different feel. Then the
Warehouse District's completely different than the central business
district. And then the French Quarter. And then you have the Marigny,
the Bywater, Lower Ninth Ward, Mid-City. Each of them is so close
together, yet has so distinct personalities. I've been fortunate to know
most of the areas. I think sometimes people in New Orleans are very
territorial. They're very tied to the location that they grew up in. And I
think I've been fortunate that I've had friends in every area, that I've
always been able to appreciate the uniqueness of each area. And I
think preserving that, the culture of it, the food, the music. Those are
things that -- the personalities of some of the people, the -- you know,
when my family first moved here, people welcomed us with open
arms. They brought us food. They introduced themselves. They were
always there when we needed them. And they had no need to go out
of their way to help us out. And they did, when we moved here. And
so we always felt a duty to help those around us. And New Orleans is
Esteban Gershanik, 61
one of those environments where people are so open and warm about
RH: Mmm hmm. Do you feel it's real different after the storm? Is New
EG: It's different. But you still find its essence. There's still those areas
where you know what New Orleans is about. You can go to a place --
you were asking about socializing, earlier. You can go to a place like Le
Bon Temps Bar and go see the Soul Rebels performing. And it's a mix
of black and white New Orleans, in a bar that has a little unique
personality to it. You know, in other cities you'd have to pay a cover
fee of $5, $10, $15, $20 to get in to see music, that in New Orleans you
can just sort of walk in for free. Everybody's dressed in a relaxed
manner and just enjoying the moment. I think, in New Orleans, people
often enjoy the moment. They have that spirit, whether it's Jazzfest or,
you know, Mardi Gras or the hundreds of festivals that we have around
town, the Saints, the sporting events. There's always something going
on around here. I also love the fact that you can sort of walk around in
New Orleans in different parts and see the historic aspect of it. I know,
soon after the storm, what was unique for me was I walked around
downtown New Orleans in the French Quarter and you just start seeing
things from the 1800s that you don't really realize that was so original
and been there for years. You go to any other city -- most other cities
in the United States don't have as much history that this city has. And I
Esteban Gershanik, 62
think that uniqueness that comes from its history is something to be
RH: Mmm. Do you think racial tensions have been heightened from the
storm, are --
EG: Yes and no. Being someone who -- I'm Hispanic and Jewish -- or
Latino and Jewish, better said. I have friends from all backgrounds. I
can hang out with friends from -- 1 could hang out and be the only guy
in a group of black friends and it won't make a difference. I'm with
them. I can be with my uptown friends, who are all white. I can be
with them. Hispanic, Jewish, Vietnamese. It's always -- I think, for
someone who's been exposed to all those groups, I've had perspective
from all their insights. And they all talk about one another, when
they're in their setting. After the storm was a unique moment, because,
in a coffee shop in the Garden District, and you had students from
Xavier and students from Tulane, Loyola, all studying at the same shop,
you know, and students from Dillard. So, you know, all of them were
studying in the same locations. And so it was nice to see -- at that
point, for me, it was like, finally, these people who -- you know,
whether people were previously living in St. Bernard, Chalmette,
Gentilly, New Orleans East, Lakeview, places that were underwater --
are now sort of hanging out in the same area, so they're getting to
know each other a little bit better. After the storm, you got to see
everyone sort of mixing a little bit more. And as things progressed,
Esteban Gershanik, 63
you started to see sort of -- I think, people's hopes for the city and the
promises that things would be better, once they didn't come to what
people -- for what people thought it was going to be, I think there was
anger. And I think sometimes, when people get angry, they need to
sort of see where it comes from and sort of place that anger along
different lines. I think the racial subject is something that's always been
sort of sensitive in this area, and then across the United States for that
matter. And I think, for people who have not been able to sort of
venture between all racial lines -- sort of lose track of that. You know,
for me it was unique to see that, after the storm, the people who were
cleaning up the Superdome and the Convention Center were all these
immigrants and this new Mexican feel into the area. And to see people
in the clinics I was working in that weren't getting paid, were doing all
this work, didn't have all their hazardous equipment, were sort of
disenfranchised, it was almost like a new slavery. Because people were
being brought here, taken advantage of, and then sent back, not
knowing where they were being sent back to. It brought a new racial
element into New Orleans. You know, we're two years out and now
we're having unique aspects of whether taco stands can be on Veterans
Avenue. It's unique that each race has always sort of felt as though
they haven't been at the forefront. And yet, whenever a new race sort
of enters the picture, it sort of creates more of a -- threat, from what I've
seen. Brett Anderson, the food critic for The Times-Picayune, I thought
Esteban Gershanik, 64
wrote a great article, on the second page of The Lagniappe. It talked
about how he found it interesting that the Sicilian, Italian immigrants
that came into Jefferson Parish and came serving mufalettas, which
was known as like a poor man's Italian sandwich, just to try to make
their stake in the area and make it, are now the ones trying to push the
taco stands and the Mexican [and Latinos out]. And then the sad thing
is that they're not all Mexican. The majority of people here are from
Central America. And the Honduran population in New Orleans was
the third or fourth largest Honduran population in the world, after the
three top cities in Honduras. So a lot of this population was already
here. But to see it so open -- it's ironic that people whose families, in
order to establish themselves in the area -- are now trying to move out
those same families that are now trying to make their own mark in the
RH: Right. Do you, yourself -- or are you seeing any ways, any movements
to try to not duplicate some of the racial divisions? You think there's
ways to --
EG: I think the one --
RH: -- kind of recover?
EG: Are there ways to recover? Yes.
RH: From racism (laughs) and whatever, I guess.
EG: You see, I once took a sociology course that said that racism is based
upon the hierarchical sense of race, who's on top and who's on the
Esteban Gershanik, 65
bottom. The only way to see through racism is that if you don't judge
people through race, if you see them first as a person, for who they are.
And then, whatever their background is is just sort of something down
the line. First you have to see the person as a person. And then,
whatever race they are, whatever culture they are may encompass
what they are as a person. I think, a lot of times, when you don't know
who the person is you tend to see their race -- or people tend to see
their race, because it helps generalize who they are, and tend to not see
the person for who they are. They tend to see them as a race. That, in
itself, is racism. It's nothing that can sort of disappear overnight. I think
it's something that's going to take years to overcome. We talk about
racism as something that's sort of easy to sort of talk about once and
then it's going to be resolved. I think, in due process, things are going
to have to change. And it's also a matter of establishing our
infrastructure. When you have public schools that aren't functional,
with poor teachers, an establishment that's not there, you can never
change things. So it's a matter of the only way that race can be
resolved is that if you fix everything on the whole -- have an open
dialogue, have everyone talking to one another, and have more
interaction amongst people, to where things can sort of push towards
moving forward. Until that time, race will be talked about but I don't
think will be fully understood.
Esteban Gershanik, 66
RH: Mmm hmm. Do you think that --? Because you were here on the
ground. Do you --? Well, actually, I guess you were here by Thursday.
Do you think there was racism involved in, I guess, the first response
EG: Yes, in different ways. If I'm an African-American who's stuck in my
house -- I'm going to give you a little different perspective on this,
because it's one that's really not talked about as much. If I'm stuck in
my house and the only person who's -- most of the people from the
Louisiana Wildlife and Fishery are white, redneck type atmosphere,
yelling for people to get out of their houses. That in itself can sort of
cause a little -- not the easiest of moments, at times.
EG: Just one of those things where you don't really -- it's clear to see black
and white if you want to make it black and white but I think the
complexity of racial issues go far beyond getting a simple answer. All
you can look at is the history of race and see how that played a role as
to what happened.
RH: Tell me, do you have a different understanding of the local, state,
federal government than you did before?
EG: Yes. In what way would you like me to describe --?
Esteban Gershanik, 67
RH: Well, has your understanding of them changed? Has your --? Maybe
something you took for granted before, maybe that you won't take for
granted any more.
EG: I think everyone, from Katrina, learned that you can't depend on
government, you can't always depend -- and wait to see if your elected
officials are going to follow through. Sometimes the leaders have to
come from the community itself and sometimes you have to be your
own leader, in order to make things happen. That's sort of what I
RH: I want to move now to kind of another section. I don't mean to jump
EG: Oh, no worries.
RH: But I want to --
EG : I may want to take some of that racial stuff out --
EG: -- from what I said, just to sort of tell you.
RH: (laughs) Actually, I think race is an incredibly complex -- and you kept
it very complex. And it's such a complex issue. But I also feel like, for
history, we should at least try to talk about it. (laugh)
EG: Well, I minored in African-American studies at Emory --
EG: -- and sort of worked on the Martin Luther King papers --
Esteban Gershanik, 68
RH: Oh, really? And then, as you said, history plays such a big role in how
EG: And we can't change history. We can only sort of learn from it.
EG: And that's the only thing we can take from race right now, is sort of
learn where things were prior and how we can move forward from this.
Dillard University used to have -- Dillard University, which is a black
college, founded by Jews, if I'm correct --
RH: Right, right.
EG: And the Jewish community always tend to sort of see what they can
do, at times. I mean, it's not something that I learned before. You had
a question on there whether I learned something new about the Jewish
community. I guess you were trying to go at did I learn that the Jewish
community was so giving or came through, in times of need? And you
sort of learn, throughout the years, that it's always been that way. They
always tend to sort of look out for one another or do something in
order for people to learn more about their Judaism. And so these
black-Jewish relations talks at sort of conventions, that sort of now
don't exist any more, there are open discussions about the race topic
and why certain things work out the way they do. And it's an open
expression -- and sort of talked about things that needed to be talked
Esteban Gershanik, 69
RH: Mmm hmm. Right. Well, so this is where I was headed, was into the
Jewish community. And did you draw on the Jewish community in
any ways, over the past two years? Did you accept help from the
Jewish community --
RH: -- the $750 of --?
EG: No. I guess my father -- I'm a -- 1 don't want to say proud person. I
realize that there was more people in need than I was. I felt very
fortunate throughout all this. I knew there were a lot of resources out
there, whether it was through the Jewish community, whether it was
through different grants, whether it was through the medical
community. There were a lot of resources there. I felt too appreciative
of what I had and felt like there was probably other people in greater
need. And for that reason, I didn't really search out -- not search out -- I
didn't accept anything, even though people were more than willing to,
you know, help out, from various communities.
RH: What has being Jewish meant to you during this experience?
EG: Try and figure all that out.
RH: Has your Jewish identity changed any? Has your understanding of
yourself as Jewish changed any?
EG: I think I've always had a strong sense of what it meant to be Jewish, a
sense of community. Having once been in Berlin at 4:00 in the
morning, by myself, thinking that I'm by myself here and I'm waiting to
Esteban Gershanik, 70
take the train and I don't know what could happen here and this is
where history was, had me grow in appreciation of what it was to be
Jewish and how the Holocaust was just 60 years ago. This experience
just sort of reiterated what I've known for years, in the sense that we've
always had our Jewish community around us, I think, my family, in this
area. We've had close friends from the Jewish community who were
always there for us. And so I don't think it's really changed my
perspective of what it means to be Jewish. Katrina just reinforced what
it meant to be Jewish, I think, a sense of giving, knowing that Jewish
funds were out there for people in need, seeing --
RH: Have you been proud of the Jewish community?
EG: I've been proud of all the religious communities, ironically enough. It's
been spoken about, time and time again, how all the religious-based
communities sort of stepped up to the plate in the midst of Katrina,
how the Catholic community and the Jewish community, the Islamic
community, they all sort of came with resources and services to
provide help. And I know that we even had some Israeli physicians that
came in town to try to help out as well. To say that it changed my
sense of being Jewish, I can't really say it did. It just sort of reinforced
what I already knew about my Judaism and what I know about the
RH: Mmm hmm. Are you involved in any of the rebuilding of the Jewish
Esteban Gershanik, 71
EG: Directly, no. I always try to make sure that -- I've tried to take part in the
rebuilding community of New Orleans. And I've tried not to make a
particular subjective sect or anything of that sort. I try to make it just
sort of an overall rebuilding of New Orleans, is the way I try to
contribute, in any manner that I can. My work schedule's already
working 80 hours a week. It doesn't provide you with much time to
help. But I just try to help out with the public health fairs, the clinics. I
haven't been involved directly in any specific Jewish endeavor. There
are some things I almost got involved in but, because I'm uncertain of
where my future lies, I'd rather just sort of stay part in what I can and go
RH: Has this experience changed your understandings of God?
EG: (laughs) No. I think we all have our own personal feelings about God,
in whatever fashion that we encompass it in our lives. I think this may
have reinforced different people's feelings about God or how they
incorporate their sense of God or religion or spirituality.
RH: Can you articulate your -- or do you mind articulating your
understanding of God or your spirituality?
EG: I think I've always had my own sense of morality that I've lived by. I
think everyone has their own sense of morals, whether it's something
they get through religion or their spirituality or God. I can't say any of
that has really changed. It's made me appreciate certain things more.
But I don't think God's impact on Katrina -- or the impact Katrina had on
Esteban Gershanik, 72
God ever -- or the perspective of that ever changed. It's just each
person, I think, goes through their own personal experience and
realizes what's important to them, what's not. I think it's all about -- 1
think I said before, for me, it's about perspective and what you
appreciate and what you don't and what's important in people's lives.
For me, that really hasn't changed, in terms of my spirituality or where I
consider God or whether it's changed since then.
RH: You were talking about your perspective. Have any of your priorities
EG: Yes, a little bit. I've always done as much as I can for others. And I
tend to forget about myself, at times, and family and things of that
nature. And so -- I'm going to have to -- my family's always been sort
of a tight-grouped family. I think it comes from both intrinsically and
also culturally from both the Latino side and the Jewish side. I think
both communities have a strong sense of family. And I think that hasn't
changed since then. I think, for me -- I'm forgetting where the question
was going, again.
RH: (laughs) Just a sense of priorities, and that changed in --
EG: No. It makes me stay true to what my sense of duty is and realizing
that I also have to prioritize myself at times and not forget about myself.
You realize how fragile life is, how many people lost family members.
You realize how important friends and family are. And even though I
work a whole lot and my time's limited with my friends and family, you
Esteban Gershanik, 73
appreciate them more, I think. And you learn how to prioritize what
you need out of life, as well, instead of -- I think sometimes, in the
medical community, people sometimes prioritize everything else but
themselves -- or in the philanthropic community or people who just
tend to help them, to sort of focus more on other people than
themselves. And at times, you realize you sometimes have to worry
RH: OK. Let's wrap up on this tape. And I have just a few more questions --
RH: -- to ask. Do you want to get up and move around?
END OF AUDIO FILE 2
RH: OK. Tape three of Katrina's Jewish Voices, with Esteban -- Gershanik.
(laughter) Excuse me.
EG: It's not the easiest of names.
RH: I apologize. You have been in a position to help people an awful lot.
And so I wonder if you could tell me what's the best kind of help that
EG: People need comprehensive help, more than any one individual can
probably give them. They need a network of help. The issue I think
many physicians have in the city is that there are so many people to
see, yet to truly treat the entirety of a patient you have to deal with
Esteban Gershanik, 74
every aspect of it, whether it's their physical health, their mental health,
their social health, their home situation, what resources they have. And
sometimes it's overbearing. There's only so much help you can give,
sometimes. And I think that's extremely hard.
RH: Mmm. We were talking off camera, for a minute, again, about the race
issue. And I was wondering if there was something else you wanted to
EG: Well, I had made the brief comment about how it is hard not to,
throughout the early parts of -- or even now, through Katrina, how it's
hard not to really see -- you're asking whether there's an aspect of race
to all this. And it's hard not to see race, at times, when you had -- you
know, almost all the people we had at the airport were primarily
African-American. Most of the people that we saw cleaning up and
rebuilding were a lot of the Central American or Mexican -- Hispanic
folks. And, you know, it's something that's there but, to talk about the
complexity of it, I think, is far more expansive and would take an
interview -- or there's no simple answer. There's an aspect of race
there. But as I said previously, I think much of race also has its sort of
historical aspects that maybe we can learn from but in order to put in
detail the extent of race is sort of difficult.
RH: Mmm hmm. OK. You said you witnessed and learned about the
politics, bureaucracy, and just how different people react in the midst
of chaos. What kind of things did you learn about that?
Esteban Gershanik, 75
EG: Chaos can bring some of the best people in the world. Some of us are
-- usually, and I think we saw it through the tsunami, through Katrina,
9/11, you see people who are willing to help -- the bravery, the
willingness to help. At the same time, it'll bring a few people who are
enticed by the drama, who are more there for themselves than they are
for the actual need. Now, that's in the minority, I think. Katrina showed
us how giving people are, how willing people are here to help. People
are still here, to this day, building houses, cleaning up houses, doing
what they can for people around the community. And I think that's
something that, as a community or as a race, we need to be very proud
of. All humans have come down here to -- people from various
different backgrounds and from around the world have come down
here to help out. And that's something I think that people can be very
proud of. At the same time, it can also bring people who like chaotic
situations. Some people like the chaos. So with the majority good,
you bring the minority bad. But the good usually outweighs the bad in
situations of chaos.
RH: You said for the most part you've taken a stand of just trying to be more
positive. Could you kind of explain that a little bit?
EG: Well, I think there are so many negative things in this community after
the storm that it's easy to get yourself down. There are so many
positive things occurring too. And I think it's easy to focus on the
negative. I think that on TV people usually like to highlight the
Esteban Gershanik, 76
negative. Scandals bring bigger ratings. Negative aspects of things
bring greater ratings. It's easy to be connected to the negative. It's
easy to spot out the negative, because it's so apparent. And you sort of
lose sight, I think, at times, of the positive things that occur in the
community. And sometimes the positive things go under the radar. It's
not talked about. It's just sort of done. And I've tried to be more
positive, because there are so many good things that are occurring.
And you have to look at the positive, because I think it sort of helps you
move forward. If you get yourself focused on the negative, it sort of
brings you down. You tend to get in a rut sometimes, may not want to
get out of it. And I think, when you focus towards the positive, look
forward, it sort of helps you move along.
RH : What's one of the most positive things that you see coming out of the
EG: I think a lot of people have come to New Orleans, both from away and
people who have moved to New Orleans even though they're not
originally from New Orleans. And I think people that are from New
Orleans and love New Orleans have made the dedication to stick
around here, even through the hard times. I think that's a very positive
aspect of things. I think a lot of people have started to take things upon
themselves instead of waiting on others. I think people realize that, a
lot more, the future is in their hands, they can't trust -- not as much
trust -- they can't depend on, whether it's the national, state, or local
Esteban Gershanik, 77
government, at times. And they realize that, in order for some things to
occur, they have to do it themselves.
RH: What's one of the things you're proudest of that you've done?
EG: I think just the establishment of some of these clinics and just sort of
working with my colleagues to sort of create an entity that is still in
service today and is being useful and having a service to the
community and making an impact. I think that's one of the proudest
things I can think about. I think I'm also proud of the fact that I've been
able to sort of continue on and move forward and sort of not be as
much, you know, with a focus on the task at hand, and still try to
contribute in the community, without bogging myself down as much.
RH: Well, is there kind of a memory of a remarkable moment in the rescue
operations in the initial period that you were involved in, that you
witnessed yourself or --?
EG: I think there were probably a couple moments that I had. I think when I
was able to triage the entire family together. I thought that was sort of
a proud moment for me, because I had just arrived and sort of bent the
rules a little bit in order to make sure that a family was together.
Having one of the children that we found at the Causeway find their
parents was sort of a proud moment, not, in a sense, for myself but just
sort of for them, knowing that they were able to be back together. And
then also, I think -- 1 had something in my head that just sort of
disappeared, (laughs) There was a moment when the people in charge
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of the Command Center sort of gave me my own ambulance. And I
thought that was a proud moment because it sort of told me that they
believed in me. And just sort of the trust I received from people in
charge of every aspect of the Emergency Operations, the Office of
Public Health, the Department of Health and Hospitals inviting me, a
resident, a volunteer, who just happened to volunteer and make a
difference, and inviting me into their world and access to what had
occurred. So, I mean, that was sort of a proud moment or a glaring
moment for me. I mean, to be on /wo Jima and talk to the medical
director of the Army for the Katrina operations -- talking to me bluntly
and openly about what's going on and what we need to do and trusting
me and telling me, you know, "Hey, I need you to do this and do that.
And we're all in this together." You know, I think it's sort of rewarding
and it's a proud moment to know that you've done things that have
continued and -- 1 mean, those were some moments that sort of stick
out for me.
RH: Mmm. What would you like to see for --? No, I have a different
question I want to ask you.
RH: Are you going to stick around New Orleans? Do you think you're going
to be able to stay? Or --?
EG: I don't know. I think many New Orleanians have a love-hate
relationship with this city. There's things you love about the city at
Esteban Gershanik, 79
times and there's things you hate about the city at times. Sometimes
there's not that happy medium. It's one way or the other. There's a lot
of things to appreciate about this city, the uniqueness of it, which I
talked about earlier. But at times you realize, once you venture out of
the city, that there's unique opportunities that are easier, that can
advance your career a little bit easier. I think sometimes the masochist
quality in me enjoys the way New Orleans is right now. There's also
unique opportunities around here, where you can sort of start things
from anew -- try to make a unique impact in an area that is needed. But
also, it may be time for me to sort of take off for a couple years, see
something new, and then decide whether I want to come back -- or
whether there is something on that other side of the fence, the other
side of that wall, that sometimes I think people in New Orleans don't
see. I think, for many people around here, it was their first time leaving
-- or not think. I know it was the first time for many people in New
Orleans, who never had access to other parts of the country -- were
able to see new things. And even though I've been able to travel
around the country and see different things, through meetings, through
work, and going to college in a different town, it sort of has opened my
eyes to sort of how things are outside of New Orleans. And I don't
know if I'm going to stay or if I'm going to go.
Mmm hmm. Are there any new directions that you've been thinking
about that --?
Esteban Gershanik, 80
EG: I had a clear plan before the storm, I think, as to what I wanted to do.
And learning about the ins and outs of government, regular
bureaucracy, just reality, in a sense, it sort of has brought in my mind
as to how to accomplish things and how to sort of be sincere to what I
want to accomplish in life, how to do the service that I want to give to
the community, and how I want to perform as a physician and onward.
And -- I'm forgetting again what the question was exactly, (laughs)
RH: Just new directions that --
EG: New directions.
RH: -- you're kind of thinking about going. You said you had a clear plan
before. Has that changed any?
EG: I had ideas.
RH: Because --
EG: I didn't have a fully clear plan. I had an idea as to what I wanted to do.
But I learned that I have to experience more things and maybe take
some things upon myself, before I complete that plan, before I go
further. I sort of look at things a little bit more, not as much short-term
-- but appreciate the moment that I'm in, now, a little bit more. I realize
that I need to focus a little bit more in the moment, while still
understanding where the short-term will lead me, down the road.
Again, for me, I think the perspective is what I have appreciated the
most, perspective of the things I have, the things I don't have, the
situation I have, and the opportunities I have in the future. I know I
Esteban Gershanik, 81
have more opportunities than, I guess, your common Joe, which
broadens my opportunities. But we'll see where things go. It's one of
those things where you realize wherever the road leads you is where
you'll go. You never know what's going to pop up, what new
opportunity, or what disaster may strike.
RH: Well, it seems like you've learned some things about yourself, also, in
EG: I've taken -- I'm a very s--
RH: Or maybe learned more about just how bureaucracies work and these
EG: I was never naive to all of these aspects of things. I always understood.
But to actually experience it, I think, puts a different twist on it. I don't
know where you want to lead me with this.
RH: Learned about yourself?
EG: What did I learn about myself? Not as much learned about myself. I
think you re-appreciate what you are [and who you are]. You start
reexamining who you are and what you're trying to do. It's not as much
learning about myself. I always knew who I was. It sort of puts things
in perspective. That's all it really -- I think it does. And it sort of makes
me, again, appreciate the moment and see where things lead. You try
to do what you can. And as long as you accomplish what your goal
was set out to be, you should be appreciative of that and satisfied -- not
Esteban Gershanik, 82
satisfied but appreciative of that and then try to see what else you can
do from it.
RH: Mmm hmm. OK. I have -- I'm just -- one more question here. Since
you didn't have your home for a year, (laughs) what does home mean
to you now?
EG: Oh, another thing I realized, that I appreciate my space. For as much as
I love my parents, living with them is something I learned I can't do any
more, (laughter) Oh. Home is, I guess, a safety blanket, a sense of
security. That's my sense of home, just something that, you're
comfortable in it. I tend to be comfortable in all different realms, I
guess, different homes -- or different people's homes. But just, a
mentor of mine once said that, "You know, before you go to sleep you
have those ten minutes on your bed, where it's the ten minutes where
you can be true to yourself and know what you're about" And I think
about those ten minutes of re-analyzing what you're about before you
go to sleep. Some people make it their first ten minutes in the
morning, realizing, you know, what they're about. And I think the sense
of home, for me, is not as much the space that I'm in but the person
that I am. And that's a sense of home for me. So that way, you can
sort of be anywhere you want to be but you have a sense of home
because you're comfortable with who you are and that provides you
with sort of a homey quality wherever go.
Esteban Gershanik, 83
RH: So I think that's a nice ending there. So tell me if there's anything you
want to add.
EG: I can't think -- off the top of my head, right now. I'm sort of just tired
EG: -- tired and hot.
RH: And just to say, you've been working 12-hour shifts and you've just
come to -- you agreed to do this -- and this --
EG: Well, no. It's usually 30-hour shifts --
RH: [Oh, it's?] 30-hour?
EG: - so I'm just happy -
RH: (laughs) Oh.
EG: When we're on call we go in at 7:00 in the morning and then we leave
the next day at 2:00 in the afternoon.
RH: Oh, my God! Yeah.
RH: So, yeah. I didn't want to make this too much of an endurance test.
(laughs) Yeah. You've done a ~
EG: I mean, is there any --?
RH: -great job.
EG: I don't know what I've said or what I haven't said.
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EG: I just know at times I repeated myself. And I said "um" a little bit too
many times. And I lost train of thought a couple of times towards the
RH: (laughs) That's OK.
EG: I'm just hoping I said things that were more true to what I'm about. And
sometimes there's like more elaborate answers that people look for, I
guess, not that you're looking for answers. But I guess my brain just
isn't working as sharp as it normally does.
EG: And that's why I'm saying "ah" --
RH: (inaudible) at the beginning.
EG: -- and I'm looking off into space.
RH: You've given me a great interview and I really appreciate it, and some
inside spin to Katrina and the recovery that no one else has given, in 75
EG: (laughs) I just don't want --
RH: I really appreciate that too.
EG: -- any negative tone on it. Like I'm trying to make sure that --
RH: I don't think anything was negative.
EG: OK. Because that was the whole pers-
EG: I mean, I could give you names of people and how they --
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EG: -- made a lot of money out of all this and all this other stuff but -- Like I
said, I just --
EG: I don't think it's changed my sense of God, who I am, perspective. It
just -- it made me reassert -- you know, we all go through times where
we sort of lose what we're about because we're so busy or because of
the situation or because of circumstances. And I think you take that
step back, you catch your breath, and you start realizing what you're
about. And as long as you stay true to who you're about and what
you're about, it sort of comes through. I mean, I think that's all you
really can do. Because once you have that sense of falsehood and that
fagade of what you're about, people can see through it.
RH: Oh, that's pr- Yeah, I think you're right. And also, if you knew who you
were, into the storm -- there were two women who said the worst
moment in their life wasn't their storm. They said the moments they
grew the most was their divorces. And so (laughs) they were in place
when the storm came. You know, they had an understanding of who
they were, you know, because that was their moment of growth. And it
happened, you know, two to three years earlier. So, no, they didn't
change that much. Their understandings of God didn't change that
much, you know.
EG: Well, I think that's what -- I mean, I think Katrina made a sense, for a lot
of people, about who they are. And a lot of people were leaving New
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Orleans for the first time. And they're like, "Oh, I'm from New Orleans.
This is part of my culture. It's not really that --" Oh, and it also opened
their eyes as to things that they could become.
EG: Because, you know, a lot of things are bad here but no one's ever
known better at times. And you go off somewhere else, it's like, "Oh,
these people really help us out." There's no crime on the streets. This
education works this way. I mean --
RH: Even the kids who were advocating for toilet paper at McDonough --
RH: -- because they went to a school that had toilet paper, (laughs)
Ml: [OK?]. [It's not?] (inaudible).
M: I'm going to turn this off.
EG: Thank you.
End of Interview
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