Hurricane Katrina: Community Responsibility and Tikkun Olam
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Hurricane Katrina: Community Responsibility and Tikkun Olam

Lesson Summary:

The Kabbalah (Jewish mystical school of thought) teaches that God created the world with vessels of divine light. But the divine light was too strong for the vessels and they shattered into bits. These bits and holy sparks scattered into the world. Our job as humans is to redeem the holy sparks through prayer and action. In doing so, we act as partners with God in the work of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). This Go & Learn guide from Jewish Women's Archive explores Hurricane Katrina as an example of how Jews respond to catastrophe. In our featured document, “Beth Israel Torah Ceremony,” reporter Gail Chalew, a Jewish resident of New Orleans, tells us the story of one thirteen year old girl, Hayley Fields of Los Angeles, who came up with her own unique way of redeeming the sparks.

Enduring Understandings:

  1. People of any age have the ability to effect positive change in their communities. 
  2. Doing tikkun olam has an affect on the people taking action as well as the world in which they live.

Essential Questions:

  1. What is the relationship between learning/understanding and action, and what is the difference between knowing and doing? 
  2. What motivates people to take action to improve or repair the world? 
  3. What power do young people have to make the world better?

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


(accessible via link below, in "procedure" section)

  • Copies of Beth Israel Torah ceremony excerpt
  • copies of Talmud excerpt
  • copies of Katrina s Jewish Voices excerpt
  • white board or butcher paper


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

  • Students will be able to articulate their own explanation of the difference between knowing and doing (understanding and action). 
  • Students will be able to explain the motivations of the key characters in the texts. 
  • Students will be able to explain or discuss what motivates them and how they might be able to make changes in the world around them.


Lesson Contributors

The Jewish Women’s Archive is a national public history organization dedicated to telling the stories of Jewish women and inspiring change and inclusivity in communities everywhere. The collections and encyclopedia on invite learners of all ages to connect with role models from history and today. Nearly 100 lesson plans for kids, families, and adults help Jewish educators weave stories about identity and activism into programs about Jewish values, holidays, and ritual. And, JWA’s professional development programs and trainings encourage educators to connect with one another to create new ways of engaging the communities they serve. As we say at JWA, “You cannot be what you cannot see,” so check us out anytime, anywhere, at