Reaching out to Houston
In southeast Texas, the flood resulting from Hurricane Harvey has been described as being of biblical proportions, with rainfall surpassing 50 inches in some areas over the period of almost a week.
Throughout the country, officials and members of the Jewish community joined their fellow citizens in reaching out to the state’s battered residents in a similarly biblically inspired spirit of caring for one’s neighbors.
The unprecedented amount of rainfall and damage, particularly in the Houston area, brought a parallel amount of fundraising and prayers for Harvey’s victims and survivors (for more, see “Houston Federation launches rebuilding campaign,” page 8).
Disaster relief funds were established by the major Jewish denominations, federations, and many other organizations. Houston’s 50,000-member Jewish community, much of it located in the flood-prone Meyerland neighborhood that has weathered three major storms in the last year, has learned how to deal with, and recuperate from, destructive deluges.
Local organizations including the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, and all of the city’s synagogues and day schools — many of the institutions suffered major water damage — reached out to the wider community, offering flood supplies, emotional support, and free food. Emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement, traditionally on the frontlines of disaster response, arranged for kosher meals.
Student volunteers from Houston Hillel counseled flood victims at the George R. Brown Convention Center. In parts of the state where the hurricane did little damage, Jewish camps, which had just closed for the summer season, reopened to provide shelter.
Jewish organizations in Dallas pitched in, including Texas Kosher BBQ, which provided thousands of hot meals at Houston’s Beren Academy day school, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas sent 500 kosher meals.
From cities as far away as New York, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Miami came volunteers to lend a hand in the early rebuilding effort, along with truckloads of donated kosher food. And from Israel came experts from IsraAID and United Hatzalah and $1 million donated by the diaspora affairs ministry.
Most impressive were acts of creative, individual chesed, like the couple that donated the food from their flood-postponed wedding to anyone in need, and the bar mitzvah boy who invited the entire Jewish community to celebrate with him in a nearby congregation.
Amidst the tragic death toll and the enormous physical, psychological, and financial trauma to the Houston community, the humanitarian response of people from all walks of life is a comforting reminder of the spirit and resilience of American society.