The size and devastation of Hurricane Harvey came as a surprise. The scenes of catastrophic flooding were barely comprehensible as one of the nation’s largest cities appeared to sink beneath unrelenting rainfall. Four feet of rain fell on Houston, the greatest amount of precipitation from a tropical system in the continental United States.
Houston is home to some 63,700 Jews. According to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, 71 percent of the community lives in areas that have experienced high flooding. That includes 12,000 seniors. The water that submerged the city significantly flooded three of Houston’s five major synagogues, and the Evelyn Rubinstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, the city’s only JCC, was flooded with 10 feet of water. Jewish schools remain closed, with some experiencing major flooding. It may take years to recover.
If the severity of the storm was a surprise, the immediate response of assistance and compassion from the rest of the country was not. The Jewish community is no exception. In the Houston area, local Jewish camps are housing refugees forced to evacuate their homes, and the Israeli humanitarian group IsraAID is coordinating an aid campaign, including sending volunteers to Houston.
Local Jewish federations quickly set up relief funds to take donations from the public. The umbrella Jewish Federations of North America’s Emergency Committee is working with local federations to aid recovery and ensure that urgent needs are met, with priority given to Houston’s Jewish community. To that end, the organization announced late last week the approval of a first grant of $500,000 to assist displaced families and to help repair the estimated 1,000 homes in the Jewish community that sustained severe damage.
The Jewish religious movements have their own relief initiatives, as does B’nai B’rith International. Chabad has mobilized forces, sending personnel and supplies to Houston. And the Rabbinical Council of America and Orthodox Union, in addition to raising funds, are organizing volunteers to recite psalms.
Once the area is safe for volunteers, the Nechama relief organization is planning to spend at least six months in the cleanup effort, and is looking for volunteers who aren’t afraid to get dirty.
What the soaked and shell shocked residents of the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country need most right now is money and plastic — gift cards from major national retailers that residents can use to buy clothing, toiletries, household items and school supplies.
We wish those hit so hard in Houston a swift and complete recovery and urge our readers to assist in any way they can. As Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel in Houston wrote: “Hurt has no shame and no label; we just need to heal one another.”