Hurricane Harvey hits Jewish Houston hard. Here’s how you can help.
Even as Hurricane Harvey continued to soak Southeast Texas with unprecedented floods, the local Jewish community was already planning the relief effort that would kick in now that can be safely distributed.
The storm dumped more than six months’ worth of rain between Aug. 25 and Aug. 27, much of it in areas where Houston’s Jewish community is concentrated, according to Taryn Baranowski, chief marketing officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. She said more than two-thirds of the area’s Jewish population lives in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm, including Meyerland, Willow Meadows and Memorial.
In response to flooding, the Jewish Federations of North America partnered with the Houston Federation to set up the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, raising money to support the Greater Houston Jewish community as it recovers from the devastation of the storm.
A recent demographic survey by the Federation indicated that 63,700 people live in Jewish households in the Greater Houston area. More than a quarter of that population are seniors, including 5,900 who are age 75 and over.
The Houston Federation is coordinating its response with other local Jewish organizations, including the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston and Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Services, an assisted living home.
Separately, one of the congregations washed out by Hurricane Harvey, Congregation Beth Yeshurun, has opened relief funds to help cover losses to the massive synagogue complex and its attached day school.
The United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston also flooded, with damages potentially in the millions of dollars to its campus. Robert Levy, a member of the synagogue’s executive committee, said the storm was “just a disaster for the community.”
“While we have been through devastation before, this one is just an order of magnitude more extensive,” he told the Journal.
Meanwhile, on Aug. 28, the day after the storm ended, a team from the Israeli disaster relief organization IsraAID was already on its way to Houston. In a fundraising email, the group’s co-CEO, Yotam Polizer, said IsraAID would provide debris removal assistance, psychosocial support and childcare services to those impacted by the storm.
In the Houston area, several Chabad rabbis launched a joint fundraising effort to provide kosher meals to those who have evacuated and to help families recover after the floodwaters recede.
Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky of Bellaire, Tex., near Houston, acted as a spokesperson for that effort. He spoke on the phone from his home, where neighbors and community members had gathered to begin cleanup and repair after 6 inches of water flooded the ground floor.
“In terms of the number of Jewish families who were impacted by the storm, it’s certainly in the thousands,” he said. “So this is anywhere from minor damage to the home to losing everything.”
Zaklikofsky said some members of the congregation he operates, the Shul of Bellaire, had seen three or four feet of water flooding their homes. He said that efforts to help Jews in extreme physical need were part of Chabad’s central mission.
“Before you can be there for somebody spiritually, you need to be there for them materially, physically emotionally, and help them restore stability and restore their dignity, first and foremost,” he said.
Other funds supporting Houston’s Jewish community and beyond: