Philadelphia Community Sends Relief to Houston in Hurricane Harvey’s Wake

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Texas National Guardsmen assist residents affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey onto a military vehicle. | Photo by Lt. Zachary West

The images and video footage coming from Texas the last few days are nothing short of horrific.

Houses submerged under water. Cars sinking into the Category 4 storm-filled streets. Rescuers riding boats to find anyone who needs help.

A death toll of at least 10, and rising.

Ahead of the storm, most area synagogues canceled Shabbat services. The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston closed Aug. 25 and remained closed Aug. 27 due to safety concerns.

Several Jewish community members led a volunteer emergency response team, and performed rescue operations the night of Aug. 26 and Aug. 27.

On Aug. 28, the American Red Cross headquarters in Philadelphia took more than 7,000 calls in less than 24 hours, per a 6abc report. And though southeast Texas is thousands of miles away, the Philadelphia Jewish community started reaching out to its Texas neighbors to provide help in any way it can.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia posted on its social media pages with a link to a relief fund donation page organized by the Jewish Federations of North America with a message, “Help us, help them. Now is the time to give to those who have been tragically affected by Hurricane Harvey.”

And age does not matter in who can make a difference.

Donna Segal runs the Bucks County chapter of CTeen for her synagogue, Lubavitch of Bucks County, a national social club for Jewish teens, and started a drive to benefit its Houston chapter.

In a post on the chapter’s Facebook page, they are looking for kosher food items and other materials to send down.

“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,” Segal said.

When the group meets at least once a month, they complete mitzvah projects, she said, which includes boxing and delivering food with JRA.

This time, they’re focusing on packaging and sending items to those affected by the hurricane.

“The biggest thing that they were asking is for kosher food because FEMA is there, Red Cross is there, but they don’t have kosher food on hand for families that keep kosher,” she said.

Segal encouraged sending non-perishable kosher food items, such as granola bars and other snacks, as well as gift cards to such places as Target or Amazon so the individuals can buy what they need.

“It’s important for me to relay the level of kashrut,” she said. “Something needs to be OU or OUD or just make sure there’s something on it because it’s not only about helping, but it’s about helping another Jew.”

Segal hopes that by participating in this effort, the teens will continue to understand the importance of giving.

“What I told the teens right now, I said, ‘I’m sure you have sweatshirts, I’m sure you have socks, I’m sure you have school supplies that you bought that you don’t need, why don’t you take a look at your closet? Let’s take new items and let’s send it out to those teens who lost everything,’” she said.

“It’s one thing to help the world but when it’s a Jewish kid — it’s a replica of our chapter only in Houston, so we know exactly who we’re helping.”  

For her own teenage daughter, Claire, helping out is a no-brainer.

“We’re fortunate enough to not be where the hurricane is right now and there are people who lost everything, and if we can give them even stuff we don’t use, if you have clothes in the back of a closet, food in the garage we don’t eat — anything can help, and if we can do something to help, why wouldn’t you?” said the 16-year-old. “Even if you don’t know the people, it’s a good thing to do.”

Photo by Lt. Zachary West

Perelman Jewish Day School has decided to take a school-oriented approach.

Head of School Judy Groner shared with her staff that the senior administration along with the president of the school has decided to open the school’s doors to any student currently enrolled in one of the Jewish day schools in Houston.

“They could make a transfer to Perelman Jewish Day School for as long as they need to be here at no cost. They’ve already paid tuition to their Houston school and we would be welcoming them with open arms,” Groner said. “We have families ready to take Houston families into their homes should that need arise, but Perelman is here for any of those students in the Jewish day schools in Houston.

“We would be glad to have them, the teachers are ready to welcome them to their classroom.”

She has been working with the Jewish Federation and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools to help spread the word in Houston, noting they haven’t heard from any interested families yet as it may still be too early.

For her, the hurricane has had personal effects, too, as her daughter-in-law’s parents live in Houston.

“Speaking with them while they still had contact,” she said, “they were very distressed, they mentioned that many of their friends’ houses were under water, many peoples’ cars are under water, highways are impassable. It’s devastation unlike anything they have ever witnessed before.”

But from an educational standpoint, the hurricane certainly hits home for Groner.

“Just thinking of all these children who were due to start school yesterday and now have no start date, and as a community that will completely have to rebuild, we feel for them,” she said, “and want to do everything that we can to ease into normality for these children and these families and give them a home away from home while they’re beginning to assess the damage and start to rebuild.”

Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia also has been working to help out however it can.

President and CEO Paula Goldstein has been in touch with her Jewish Family Service (JFS) Houston counterpart.

“She said the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies was trying to organize a mental health hotline to help people who are having difficulty coping with the situation, and I volunteered our JFCS’ clinical staff to help man that hotline,” Goldstein said, noting, however, it is still too early to know what’s to come of that.

She has sent links to donation pages organized by JFNA and JFS Houston as to how the board and staff could donate.

“I did receive a couple of emails from my staff who have family in the Houston area who are really under water and were so glad our organization was going to try and help,” she said.

“We’re very on it, very aware and we’re waiting to hear what else we can do.”

National and international Jewish organizations have also set up donation drives to send relief.

B’nai B’rith International opened its Disaster Relief Fund for aid to the victims of the hurricane as it did for those affected by Katrina in New Orleans and Matthew in Haiti. A call to the Liberty chapter representing Delaware, Southern New Jersey, Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania wasn’t returned.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism posted on its Facebook page with encouragement to donate to such organizations as JFNA, NECHAMA Jewish Response to Disaster and the American Red Cross.

The Union for Reform Judaism posted a statement to its website over the weekend and created a page for donations and updates, which can be found at urj.org/hurricane-harvey. Local synagogues like Congregation Rodeph Shalom and Beth David Reform Congregation have linked to this donation page on their own websites and social media pages.

Likewise, the Orthodox Union set up a page for donations at ou.org/giving/houston-relief-fund/ and pointed to the proximity of the New Year.

“As the extent of the damage becomes clear,” the OU posted, “it is obvious that this community will need significant financial help in order to rebuild. Our community has answered the call before, and as Rosh Hashana approaches, we must answer the call again.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740

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