Jewish Community Plans Florence Relief

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Volunteers in Houston helped restore housing. | Photo by Sacha Bodner

Hurricane Florence has left thousands of people displaced from their homes and dozens of towns flooded in North Carolina and South Carolina. As of the morning of Sept. 18, the storm’s death toll was 32.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is encouraging the community to aid victims by donating at jewishfederations.org/Hurricane-Relief-Fund-2018.

Meantime, the Jewish Federations of North America has identified key areas affected by the storm in need of help, JFNA executive vice president Mark Gurvis said.

Gurvis said he’s been in contact with six Jewish Federations in areas hit by Florence, four in North Carolina — Charlotte, Durham-Chapel Hill, Raleigh-Cary and Greensboro — and two in South Carolina: Charleston and Columbia. He’s also been made aware of 22 smaller impacted areas without formal Jewish Federations.

Three synagogues in North Carolina have accrued significant water damage: Temple of Israel in Wilmington, Bnai Israel Congregation in Wilmington and Temple B’Nai Sholem in New Bern.

JFNA was waiting for the storm to completely subside before re-evaluating and putting together a game plan for helping aid recovery in the area, but until then Gurvis recommended those looking to help make a donation.

“There’s always an effort around donated goods, but the easiest and most flexible option for organizations is cash,” Gurvis said. “Efforts to donate goods take a whole lot of time.”

One of the North Carolina areas hit particularly hard by the storm is Wilmington. Chabad of Wilmington planned to conduct Yom Kippur services as normal, but as of Sept. 17 afternoon it had a shortage of kosher food to break the fast with.

“We have a truckload of kosher food for the community,” Rabbi Bentzion Groner of Charlotte, N.C., said to chabad.org, “but no way to get it to them.”

The destruction brought on by Florence paints a jarring picture against the backdrop of last year’s Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston. Recovery is still ongoing in the city, said Sacha Bodner, project manager of Act Now Houston, which is facilitated by Repair the World.

Moishe House chipped in on recovery efforts that are far from complete. | Photo by Sacha Bodner

Bodner said the recovery effort in Houston will take years. The city has received some aid from the Philadelphia community, including team members from the local Repair. Moishe House sent a national delegation over the summer, and Jewish students from Penn State are slated to come in November.

“We ask for volunteers to spend two full days. Most groups spent between two and seven days,” Bodner said. “It’s an ask. It shines a bright light on the heart and dedication of the person willing to leave their life behind for a few days … and give seven to eight hours for a couple of days going into somebody’s home and doing some really challenging work.”

Last November, a group of eight students from Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station went to Houston to help with relief efforts.

“As Jews we have an obligation to help those in need when we have the capability to help out. This is a message that can’t be said too many times,” Rabbi Aaron Horn, dean of students, told the Jewish Exponent last November. “But, no matter how often you say it, unless the school steps up and enables students to get their hands dirty, it remains cognitive. Once the school says, ‘Go to Houston to clean up, and the school’s excusing your absences while you embark on a noble call,’ that is different.”

Moishe House sent a national delegation to volunteer in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. | Sacha Bodner

In the immediate aftermath of Harvey, the Bucks County chapter of CTeen started a drive to benefit its Houston chapter.

“We are trying to do what we can with our community to help out our CTeen sister chapter that is located in Houston [and] families that are misplaced and lost everything,” said Donna Segal, who runs the chapter, at the time.

JFNA’s work in Houston is ongoing, too, with the organization providing everything from legal assistance to counseling and trauma support to those impacted.

Bodner implored people not to forget about Harvey.

“The spotlight has faded from Houston and I think people have forgotten how devastating it was here,” he said. “If you’re a volunteer who’s able to help, your help is tremendously needed, and it will be for some time.”

Bodner said Repair hasn’t ruled out putting together a team in the Carolinas similar to the one in Houston. In the meantime, he pointed to an act of kindness from last year’s devastation that could provide solace for Jews in North Carolina and South Carolina.

After Harvey left Congregation Beth Yeshurun flooded, nearby Lakewood Church, a non-denominational Christian megachurch, hosted CBY and its congregants for the High Holidays. The timing might not line up for Jews displaced this year, but Bodner and Gurvis are confident support will come from all directions once the storm dissipates. 

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