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Celebrating the volunteers, leaders and professionals of #JewOrleans

Carol Berman was raised in Black Baptist family, attended a Catholic University, and married into a Modern Orthodox Jewish family.  Born in the Greater New Orleans area, she is from the West Bank originally. Carol joined the US Army Reserve (USAR) at the rank of Private First Class in 1994.  She also received her undergraduate degree from Loyola University (New Orleans) the same year. Upon returning to New Orleans from Basic Training (Boot Camp) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT), she obtained employment in a local public library system which allowed her to continue her passion of serving all members of our community.  Carol worked towards and was eventually awarded a Master’s in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge in 2001 – one month prior to the 9/11 attack on our nation. 

An Afghanistan Veteran and with almost 30 years of service, Carol Berman currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the USAR.  (18 months ago, she served as a Battalion Commander of a Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.)  Her current civilian position is with the Department of Veterans Affairs in the New Orleans area; she assists VA employees in continuing their education and achieving their life goals. Her husband, Benjamin, is the son of a Holocaust Survivor from Poland. They have a daughter, Penina, who attends a local Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Together, Penina and Benjamin form her rock and help her to “Keep Moving Forward!” 

Carol is currently Post Commander of Ben Katz Post 580 (New Orleans) of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America.

What value do we need most in our world today?

To value each other.  Throughout my travels, I find that we (Human Beings) do not value each other, or not enough.   There are individuals who make it their business to hurt each other. We were made to be different by G-d, and should honor Our Creator by valuing His work (us).  Our worldviews will be different – the way we live, love, and learn will be different.  Yet, this does not mean we should do things that would lead to hurt and pain that lasts for generations.

What do you value most in your friends?

To be my friend, you have to learn or to be “rugged” and want to engage a role that may not be the perceived norm and approved by those around you.  I have always believed that we are here to serve the Will of G-d (Hashem).  For me, it means Tikkun Olam – repair the world when I have the absolute capability to do so. This ideology comes from a combination of my life experience and seeing others in a position of being disadvantaged. When I was younger, I was always counted out.  When I was 16 years-old, I was told by one of my teachers that I would be pregnant by 18.  I had to corner my high school teachers to tutor me because I knew I had to learn.  I went to Loyola and had to take every remedial course first just to get through.  After trying to figure out things during many years of college, I finally graduated not Cum Laude or Summa Cum Laude, just “Thank You L-aude” and ran with that diploma. My military experience was not easy either. Not many things came easy in this life. Yet, for me the driving factor became who was willing to be on my team – mentor and guide me through the most difficult times of my life, and sometimes theirs. (Because in life, sometimes, there is pain all over.) Yet, when you understand how you are accountable, responsible, and occasionally have the authority to make things right, you can fix your part of the world – start in the square five blocks in which you live.  And just us doing a little at a time, will repair the world. Those who are “rugged” will withstand the world’s challenges and still want to do the right thing and make a place for all others to live in peace.

Who’s your favorite Jewish hero (living or not/fictional or not) and why? 

My favorite Jewish hero (or heroine) is the one I take my name from: Yael (also know as Jael). The following is basically described in Chapters 4 and 5 in the Book of Judges in the Tanakh:  The Jewish people were severely oppressed in the Land of Canaan.   The prophetess and judge, Deborah, advised the Jewish military commander Barak to mobilize the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon on Mount Tabor to do battle against King Jabin of Canaan.  Barak told her that he would follow her directions if she accompanied him.  Deborah replied that his victory will be given to a woman. Yael delivers the Jewish people from the Army of King Jabin by killing its general, Sisera. How?  After his Soldiers were defeated when their iron chariots became stuck in mud, General Sisera left the area.  He later arrived at the household of Heber the Kennite, Jael’s husband.  Seeking refuge, Sisera asked Jael to provide him comfort and to hide him from his enemies in her tent.  Sympathetic to the Jews after seeing them be victims of 20 years of cruel treatment from Sisera’s king, Jael rose to the occasion.  After giving him milk, a blanket, and a place to sleep, she took a tent peg and knocked it through Sisera’s head with a hammer.  By this basic action, she became a Woman of Valor among the Jewish people, because the military leader was killed, and the king did not have any further capability to harm the Jewish people.  

Jael is my favorite hero because I find myself in her.  I am not sure if she was a Jewish woman, but many believe she was definitely ‘Jewish Adjacent’ or ‘Jewish Allied’.  Jael became a hero during a military action – hey, I went to war. I know that she did not take lightly the duty she felt she had to harm someone to protect other lives.  Yael picked up the tent peg and hammer because she knew that there was no other choice she had to protect and save people.  This “value” is what I was trained to do and instinctively hold onto throughout my life.  (In other words, you do not fire your weapon unless you absolutely have to, because it can severely hurt or kill.)   Overall, she gives me hope that a woman that may have not been born Jewish, can provide comfort, strength, stability and ensure the lives of Jewish people for centuries to come.  Regardless of what I may face internally or externally in our community, I find in her that I am where G-d wants me to be.

What’s the best thing about being part of our New Orleans Jewish community?

The best thing about being a part of the New Orleans Jewish community is that you can function in and belong to several flavors of Judaism, and it is greatly accepted.  For example, my family has memberships in a Conservative shul and a Reform shul.  There are families that have the same practice and it is basically normal in New Orleans.  I think it is unique in our area and makes us stronger as a community.  Unlike other cities, we have the capability for “crosstalk” and acceptance of the different flavors that enhance our efforts, break down internal barriers, and unite during the most recent tragedies and troubles.

How did you get involved in our Jewish Federation and what have you gained from your experience?

My relationship with the Jewish Federation has grown due to my participation in the Jewish War Veterans and my daughter attending the New Orleans Jewish Day School (NOJDS), now Jewish Community Day School (JCDS).  I will start with the Day School. I made the choice to send my daughter to the school, mainly due to the advice of Dr. Mike Wasserman. While we were there, I was able to be a member of the School Board when I became the Parent Association President.  I associated with members of the Federation and its leadership. During the last few years, my membership and ascension through the ranks of the local post of the Jewish War Veterans allowed me to participate in various activities with the Federation.  The ideas of Tikkun Olam, as well as the friendships and other relationships that have been developed, keeps my participation in the Federation going.

What I gained from the Federation is a spiritual growth within me that transcends my entire being.  A big example of this is when I found the Day School and Federation participating in the yearly Martin Luther King Jr. March sponsored by the City of New Orleans.  As an African-American, I was proud to be walking with my Federation and child’s school every January.  Before COVID hit, I was one of the major representatives for the Federation to ensure our participation – our place among all people in our community.  If we have any role in this, we will not stop marching, we will not be afraid, and we will again be on the street for MLK, Jr Day.

What do you want the community to know about Jewish War Veterans?

I want the Jewish community to know that much of its current history is entwined with the Jewish War Veterans.  Started in 1896, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America’s origins come from anti-Semitism. The great Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens made remarks indicating that Jews do not serve in the military and not one would die for this country.  He later retracted his remarks, but it sparked Jews at the time to unite on their military experiences.  At 127 years, JWV is the oldest Military Service Organization (MSO) in the country – older than the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and others.  Jewish War Veterans not only has pushed for Veterans concerns, in this country, but has been a constant voice for Jews issues.   For instance, in 1948, JWV staged the largest parade in Jewish history with over 250,000 Veterans marching for the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine, where Israel would be created shortly after. (This does not count the boycotts and previous parade held in 1936 against Nazi Germany.)  JWV members were on the backs of Congress to pass Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s.  In my opinion, it has been Jews willing to serve in the military, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, and is one of the big reasons why we are all experiencing the freedom we have today.  Even though we are a national organization, we are small. I hope that there are others who will contact me that want to continue the legacy – our legacy of being American Jews who got/get in the fight to help keep America safe and allow freedom to reign.

Carole Neff is a Board-Certified Estate Planning & Administration Specialist, certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization, and has practiced in that field for 45+ years.  She co-authorized a 3-volume treatise on the subject with now-deceased partner, Max Nathan, Jr.  She is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, being elected the first woman and youngest person from Louisiana.  She is a well-known and respected expert in her field and is a popular, frequently sought-after speaker and has spoken at numerous professional meetings, conventions and estate planning seminars. She has been in many leadership positions in the New Orleans Jewish Community, including as Chair of the Jewish Endowment Foundation, of Avodah New Orleans and of the New Orleans Jewish Day School and has served in leadership positions in several professional organizations as well.  She is now a 24 year breast cancer survivor, a wife and a mother of 2 adult children.

What value do we need most in our world today?

Patience, kindness, acceptance and understanding.

What do you value most in your friends?

Their love and being there whenever I need them.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you’re a survivor. What did you learn about yourself in your fight? 

That cancer can’t keep me down; that  I can rise to the occasion and face just about any challenges as they are presented to me.

What’s the best thing about being part of our New Orleans Jewish community?

Feeling a sense of belonging to a vibrant, active and giving community and feeling that I am very much an integral and meaningful part of it.

Why did you get involved in our Jewish Federation and what have you gained from your experience?

I first got involved because I was asked to participate, but once I did and felt that these are “my people” with whom I share the most, I knew that this is where I belong.  I have made some of my most meaningful relationships through my many years of participation.


Jonathan Lake was born in New Orleans, a fifth-generation descendant of one of the original 26 founders of Congregation Gates of Prayer. After graduating from Newman School in 1969, he completed his education majoring in Economics at Tulane and obtaining his Juris Doctor degree at Tulane Law School. As a sole practitioner for over 45 years, he specialized in Real Estate and Corporate Litigation. 

Jonny has served on the boards and in leadership positions for Congregation Gates of Prayer, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Community Center, Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. He is the proud father of three daughters and grandfather of nine ranging from first grade to college. His favorite things to do include walking in Audubon Park, teaching at Newman School and supporting and cheering for his grandchildren in their many endeavors and exploits plus, of course, Federation activities and meetings.

Jonny will take the reins as the Chair of the Jewish Federation Board of Trustees at the 110th Annual Meeting on September 7. Register here to attend.

What value do we need most in our world today?

Understanding and compassion for one another are the values we each should strive for in our imperfect world.

What do you value most in your friends?

Loyalty and support during stressful and difficult times are what I value most in friends and family.

Who’s your favorite Jewish hero (living or not/fictional or not) and why? 

My favorite hero is my mother, Amy Lake, because she taught me to do my best to serve others each and every day with a smile and a positive attitude.

What’s the best thing about being part of our New Orleans Jewish community?

I feel that the best part of being involved in our New Orleans Jewish community is receiving the gifts of friendship and meaning in life that increases as each year passes and each of us has opportunities to have a positive impact on the lives of others in need. 

Why did you get involved in our Jewish Federation and what have you gained from your experience?

I am involved in Jewish Federation to serve others less fortunate than myself locally and around the world. Continually, I am appreciative of the efforts and guidance of professionals and volunteers that remind me that we work together as a team to attempt to solve the issues of our lives.

What are your priorities during your tenure as Federation Board Chair?

My priority as Board Chair is to bring our Jewish community closer together through activities and projects that serve all ages and interests. We have a responsibility and commandment to bless each other during good and difficult times. Am Yisrael Chai!


David Shepard is the Jewish Federation’s Israel and Overseas Chair. He also serves on the Federation Board and Executive Committee and on the Jewish Community Relations Council. Prior to joining the Federation board, David was JNOLA Co-Chair from 2015-2017.

In his professional life, David is a former middle school math teacher who now serves as the Director of Policy and Data Strategy for YouthForce NOLA, a local education non-profit focused on career and technical education. He is engaged to be married to his fiancee and better half, Lesley Lucas, in October.

David earned his undergraduate degree in economics and urban studies from Washington University in St. Louis. He holds a Masters in Urban Education from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

What value do we need most in our world today? 

Listening. Listening is the value and the skill on which common understanding lies, and it tends to be reciprocal. If we listen to the stories and ideas of others, they are likely to ask us to share our own stories and ideas. 

What do you value most in your friends? 

Positivity. Listening is the foundation for positive engagement with others. Positivity leads us to build others up, express an interest in others, and seek common experiences that bring us joy. Lesley and I love creating experiences for and with our friends, old and new, from hosting Shabbat dinners to participating in civic life and cultural traditions, such as our Mardi Gras Krewe, Mishigas, which Lesley co-leads.

Who’s your favorite Jewish hero (living or not/fictional or not) and why? 

I am deeply moved by the story of Raphael Lemkin, who used his skills as a linguist and a lawyer to advocate for genocide to become an international crime after the Holocaust. Personally, I try to carry on the memory of my namesake Louis Fabricant, my maternal grandfather from whom my middle name Lawrence is derived, who emigrated from Russia as a child and developed his skills, character, and achievement in many fields. 

What’s the best thing about being part of our New Orleans Jewish community? 

I was raised in the New Orleans Jewish community and had the opportunity to learn from my parents and my sister, whose leadership helped me see how our community can help people find their place and become their best selves. Now, I’m able to join with others to continue the tradition of an inclusive and empowering Jewish community that I learned from my family.

Why is it important to be inclusive about how we discuss and connect to Israel?

Israel is an important part of their identity for many members of our community. As a community, we need to offer opportunities to all of our members to explore, share, and connect to the many different ways that we understand and relate to Israel. At the institutional level, these opportunities will enable our current and future leaders to collectively and thoughtfully consider the role of Israel both when engaging within the Jewish community and with other communities in New Orleans.

What are some upcoming Federation Israel-centered projects you’re most looking forward to, and why?

Thanks in large part to the leadership of new Federation CEO Robert French, Federation is building on the success of its Israel-connected initiatives by seeking synergies across these initiatives and identifying a role for Federation in filling gaps in Israel programming within our community. In addition to the many initiatives that enable our community to connect to Israel and engage with Israeli traditions, I believe that our community can achieve a culture in which we openly and respectfully talk about Israel across lines of difference. To that end, I’m looking forward to an intentional new set of small group discussions and speakers that we will be facilitating over the next year.

If people want to get involved with these projects, what should they do?

Please email Federation’s new Chief Program & Engagement Officer, Elizabeth Sloane, at elizabeth@jewishnola.com.