By Michael Orbach
Two weeks after a severe tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, the Orthodox Union raised a substantial amount of money to aid those affected by the natural disaster.
After news reports filtered in about the scope of the devastation that killed more than twenty people, Mayer Fertig, the OU’s new chief communications officer, reached out to Rabbi Ovadia Goldman of the Chabad Center of Oklahoma.
“I knew that Chabad was likely to be the first Jewish organization to know what was needed,” Fertig explained.
Rabbi Goldman said that while he was deluged with phone calls, the call from the OU was different.
“Instead of telling us what the OU had to offer, they asked what we needed,” Rabbi Goldman said.
Rabbi Goldman explained that the victims of the natural disaster had seen their homes and their possessions destroyed. More than anything else, they needed money to begin rebuilding their lives. After an online fundraising campaign, the OU wired funds to Rabbi Goldman, who purchased Walmart and Target gift cards which were then distributed to residents in need.
“The devastation is almost indescribable,” Rabbi Goldman remarked. “It feels like a war zone, and that isn’t hyperbole.”
While there is a minimal Jewish presence in Moore, Rabbi Goldman felt compelled to help the residents of the town.
“Oklahoma is very respectful to the Jewish people and extremely supportive of Israel,” he said. “The idea of it being a kiddush Hashem was on my mind. I felt that this was something we needed to respond to.”
Rabbi Goldman had his rabbinic interns clear debris and set up the Chabad House as a drop-in center and temporary housing shelter. He and other volunteers gave out food and supplies.
“As Jews, we have a sense of responsibility to all of humanity,” said Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the OU. “It goes back to our Patriarch Abraham. We’re profoundly grateful to be living in America. One of the manifestations of that gratitude is to be responsible and look after our fellow Americans.”
The OU also raised funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
NCSY, the international youth movement of the OU, sent a delegation of teens from Dallas to help the residents of Oklahoma.
“This experience made me really appreciate what I have—clothes, food, family, friends and a roof over my head,” said Valerie Lopez, a member of SouthWest NCSY. “It made me realize that I should not take things for granted and that we should appreciate the life Hashem gives us every day.”
One couple who lost their home during the tornado wrote about the effects of the OU-sponsored gift cards.
“This blessing brought both my wife and me to tears,” wrote the man, who is not Jewish and has asked to remain anonymous, in a letter sent to Rabbi Goldman. “We had been struggling to figure out how we would be able to afford some prescriptions that were lost in the tornado. This immediately answered our prayers. We used the leftover funds to buy [my wife] some shoes for work . . . and other basic[s] . . . as we worked on our relocation.”
The letter concluded:
“To whomever receives this, please pass this along to any of the donors or leadership of the Orthodox Union. I have had very little interaction with the Jewish community over my life, but this gesture will forever impact my view. I have shared this story with many friends and families and cannot express my gratitude for the assistance when I was at my lowest.
Michael Orbach is a writer living in New York.