Seventeen-year-old Sholom Lazaroff was preparing to board a plane from Houston on Aug. 27 when nature got in his way.
He was en route to becoming a first-year student at Rabbinical College of America in Morristown two days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on the evening of Aug. 25.
Sholom kept rescheduling flights, which were successively canceled due to weather conditions and a gas explosion in the town of Crosby, not far from the airport. He was scheduled to arrive in Morristown this week, in time for the second week of classes.
So, instead of beginning his formal studies, Sholom Lazaroff went to work in his hometown, working beside his father at Aishel House, a Chabad-run residence that provides housing and support services for out-of-town patients who come with their families for treatment at Texas Medical Center in Houston. His father, Rabbi Eliezer Lazaroff, is a 1989 graduate of the Lubavitcher seminary.
“Sholom put the morals and ethics and teaching of chasidism to taking care of others” by providing relief efforts through visiting shelters and delivering food to people who were flooded, his father told NJJN.
As it did during previous floods in Houston, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Aishel House opened its doors to those who had been left homeless. As of press time, three of its 23 apartments were earmarked for flood evacuees.
“We are open to everybody but we feel obligated to give priority to Jewish patients and their families
because we can provide for their unique needs,” Lazaroff said.
Sholom’s volunteer efforts have been multiplied by the thousands from people coming to the rescue of devastated Jewish communities in Houston, Galveston, and Corpus Christie, Texas; and parts of Louisiana.
Among them is the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, which is urging donors to send checks to the Jewish Federations of North America (see sidebar above).
The JCC Association of North America is coordinating a drive to purchase gift cards from Visa and MasterCard and from chain stores such as Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Walmart. Gift cards are an expeditious way to enable flood victims to buy food, water, clothing, appliances, and other items for rebuilding their damaged homes. The gift cards should be purchased online and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz of Chabad of West Orange was one of 50 rabbis heading to Texas to assist Chabad in Houston with relief efforts. “The Torah teaches responsibility for all mankind and the time for action is now,” Kasowitz said in a statement. “When people need us, we must go.”
Youth groups are also pitching in. Ten young volunteers from the New Jersey region of NCSY, the Orthodox movement’s youth group, flew to Houston on Sept. 3 carrying rescue supplies and an eagerness to help an embattled community cope with disaster.
“As a Jew, it is important for me to do this,” said Ben Josephson, a senior at Hightstown High School in East Windsor. “It is very satisfying,” he said about joining the massive relief effort and completing manual tasks such as replacing drywall in a once-flooded home.
This was the first aid mission for Meira Book of Teaneck, a junior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls. She told NJJN she was pleased to be “helping people in a Jewish house in a Jewish community.”
Both teens were part of the first wave of NCSY members to head to Texas. Five days after the first groups’s return to New Jersey on Sept. 5, a second 10-member team will depart for Houston on Sept. 10. Three weeks later NCSY will send 25 more volunteers to Texas, according to Rabbi Ethan Katz, NCSY’s NJ’s regional director.
The National Federation of Temple Youth (URJ) is participating in the Union for Reform Judaism’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund and is focusing on aid to the URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas. Greene Family Camp and Young Judaea’s sleepaway camp in Wimberly, Texas, have assisted and sheltered evacuees.
The Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth (USY) and the non-denominational BBYO are also involved in fund-raising efforts. BBYO in New Jersey said that money raised will be used to cover the costs of BBYO programming for their Texas peers.
The hurricane struck around the same time some schools were scheduled to begin their fall semester. The Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, a modern Orthodox primary and secondary day school, delayed its opening until Sept. 5. Others are scheduled to open next week.
Day schools in many parts of the country were offering space to those who relocate, even temporarily, in time to start the school year. Among the local ones are Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
They have offered places “to as many students” that wish to come, said Daniel Israeli, CFO of the Kushner schools. High school students who leave home without their parents would be afforded free room and board during their stay in New Jersey, he added.
Adam Shapiro, head of school at the Conservative Golda Och Academy in West Orange, told NJJN he has already received one inquiry “from a family that is looking at different options.”
Twelve years ago, Golda Och, then called the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, admitted several students from New Orleans who had been forced to relocate after Hurricane Katrina. Shapiro said it is willing to do so again.
“We have pledged to be at the ready to help any family that needs to relocate to this part of New Jersey,” he said. “We recognize what it means to respond to these kinds of natural disasters.”
Prizmah, a national group of day school organizations, is helping coordinate post-hurricane educational plans. “Every school is moving heaven and earth to be able to welcome back their own kids,” said Paul Bernstein, Prizmah’s CEO.
He said the disaster “had a very major impact on the Jewish community. I am sure we are going to learn in the days to come how big was the impact and what they will need from all of us around the country to recover from it.”