Jewish Communities Mobilize to Help Houston

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Hurricane Harvey (Houston)
30 Aug 2017

It finally stopped raining, the flood waters began to recede, and the sun emerged from beneath the heavy storm clouds that had been obscuring its image for so many days. Houstonians basked in its presence for just a minute.

And then it was time to survey the damages and get to work.

The immediate need was to go through belongings and salvage what they could. Mark Newman and Myles Rose spent Tuesday helping tear out a friend’s carpet, “It’s hard work, not just because it’s physical labor, but because you have to see people’s faces as they realize that they have lost everything,” wrote Mark.

Mindy Pollak returned to her home to find it had flooded with 7 feet of water. All of their furniture, appliances, and clothes had been new, purchased since the last flood. All gone. “I have accepted that less is the new more,” Mindy concluded.

Marisa Brown and her daughter Julia fled their house for a neighbor’s when the flooding started. Their home sustained around five to six feet of flooding and was then looted; Marisa’s engagement ring was among the items stolen. Her husband Harry was stuck at Newark Airport, unable to return home to his family, after sending off their older daughter, Deborah, to a year in Israel. “I’m filled with the guilt of a father and husband who isn’t able to do anything to help”, he said.

The Houston Jewish community continued to mobilize to help out. 

With so many shelters overcrowded and without enough beds, the Robert M. Beren Academy opened its doors as a shelter to provide families with sleeping space and air-conditioning. With school closed until next Tuesday, Judaic Studies Principal, Rabbi Aaron Levitt opened a mini-camp for children 3 and up to allow parents to engage in clean-up.

The Young Israel of Houston set up a google doc, asking its congregants if anyone could house and help feed flood victims. As of this writing, 38 families had signed up, offering guest houses, extra bedrooms and even floor space across their houses. Offers were made to do laundry, cook meals, help with clean up and offer transportation.

Meyerland Minyan and Congregation Beth Rambam worked together to provide a community dinner for those impacted by the flooding and for volunteers on Tuesday night. Chabad of Houston collected supplies, gift cards and donations for those in need. 

But Houston was presented with another challenge: with two grocery stories flooded and some that lost electricity during the storm, there was no kosher food left to buy. Even for those whose homes had not flooded and who did have power, how would they prepare for Shabbat? And with so many whose meat had spoiled, how would they get enough meat for Rosh Hashana?

Jewish communities across the world had been following the story in Houston and donating money to the cause but were anxiously trying to see how else they could help. Here was their chance to step in.

In Dallas, Simcha Kosher Catering, DATA Kollel, Texas Kosher Barbecue, the Federation of Greater Dallas and Dallas Kosher, worked together to prepare 2,000 Shabbat meals for the residents of Houston. Rosenblatt Meat was supplying brisket and ground beef below cost until funds could be gathered and Texas Kosher BBQ of Dallas planned to be in Houston from Sunday until mid-week serving food out of a satellite kitchen.

Michal Jacknin of Bellaire Jewish Center made a collection center in Dallas to help her neighbors in Houston. “It was amazing to witness the amazing Dallas community reaching out,” Michal wrote, ”People came into the donation site with bags upon bags of cleaning supplies, clothing, food, toiletries, shoes! We received hundreds of items, and we hope to receive hundreds more tomorrow! We can’t wait to get home so we can distribute to those in need! Dallas gave Houston a big hug! A big thank you to Hudy Abrams and the Jewish Learning Center!”

Seasons Kosher grocery stores across New York, New Jersey, and Baltimore donated items and partnered with the Orthodox Union, Amudim and Achiezer to collect and deliver supplies to the Houston Jewish community. A convoy of trucks planned to deliver the supplies to Houston on Monday.

With Rosh Hashana three weeks away, offers for hospitality were also made across the Jewish world. One Facebook post offered a luxury apartment in Tel Aviv, and another family offered their home in Boynton Beach to Houston flood victims for Rosh Hashana. Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky of Congregation Shaarei Tefilla in Dallas sent out an email encouraging congregants to open their homes to flood victims for Rosh Hashana, and possibly even over Succot. A google doc was set up for this purpose with 30 families signed up to host; some Houston families who had evacuated before the storm were already staying with families in Dallas and Plano.

Humanitarian aid organizations, IsraAID and iAID sent teams to help clear debris, clean ruined homes, and offer psychological support to Harvey survivors.

      Volunteers from NCSY and other organizations were planning chessed missions to the Houston area as soon as was deemed safe. However, the OU cautioned groups to go through one central point of contact at, to be most organized and efficient with relief efforts.

“The outpouring of care is remarkable and a testament to the incredible spirit of our community and humanity in general,” wrote Rochelle Garfield, wife of the Head of School of Yeshiva Torat Emet of Houston. “People have been calling from all over the country wanting to help and donate. This is a testament to the compassion and kindness people have within them.”  

Even with all of this support being offered, Houston needs so much more. Please continue to help out in the following ways:

  1. Donate: As the extent of the damage becomes apparent, it is obvious that this community will need significant financial help to rebuild. Please donate to the OU and RCA’s disaster relief fund today
  2. Tehillim and Support: Recite Tehillim and Send Messages of Support. Our prayers and good wishes are needed more than ever. Click here to commit to recite some Tehillim or to send your message of support.
  3. Volunteer: Are you interested in volunteering in Houston to help the Orthodox community? We are in contact with community members on the ground to direct volunteers when and where they are needed. Click here to sign up to volunteer.


The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.