Five years ago, Lew Kreinberg, founder of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and a longtime West Side community activist, retired to Waveland, Miss. with his wife, Penny Tyler, one of the founders of the Chicago Jazz Festival.
At the time, he said his new home was a scant two football fields from the Gulf of Mexico, and a relatively short drive to New Orleans, where Tyler’s son lives. It also landed them smack in the path of Hurricane Katrina, which wiped out their house and the rest of their adopted beach town a week and a half ago.
Kreinberg and Tyler left shortly before the storm, which wiped out their house and the surrounding beach community. Kreinberg said all of their possessions?”including a prized seat from old Comiskey Park?”are now floating in the Gulf of Mexico.
“There was a 32-foot storm surge,” Kreinberg said. “It’s clean. It’s as though a grader went across the ground.”
Heading north, Kreinberg and Tyler landed last week at the Riverside home of Ramiro Borja, a longtime community activist in Pilsen. For the time being, Kreinberg will remain in Chicago and is hoping to help out in some form with the JCUA. After a few days in town, Tyler was working on a documentary with legendary Chicago musician David Brubeck, Kreinberg said.
Nevertheless, Kreinberg is already talking of finding a way to return south and get involved in the mammoth rebuilding effort ahead. A vocal critic of Chicago urban renewal programs (ranging from the 1960s Model Cities effort to the 1994 closure of the old Maxwell Street Market), Kreinberg is highly skeptical of what the Louisiana and Mississippi relief efforts will entail.
Kreinberg noted that the stark, televised images of people clinging to their lives atop roofs were similar to those reporters found when trekking into the Near West Side’s crowded immigrant neighborhoods following the Great Chicago Fire. The tragedy in New Orleans and Mississippi, Kreinberg remarked, brought to light the tremendous poverty that already existed there.
“When the Chicago Fire occurred, one of the commentators remarked that it was like looking under a rock, when find all those creepy crawly things you don’t see,” Kreinberg said. “There’s another America that’s invisible to us. Unless there’s a tragedy, we don’t see it, and then we get embarrassed.”