By Marc Shapiro
Maayan Bobylev has had a front seat to the unprecedented decimation from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which has poured 2 feet of rain on the area, with more expected this week.
She lives in the Nob Hill Apartments, situated on Brays Bayou, which overflowed onto the streets. In the heavily Jewish populated area, at least three synagogues, the JCC, a community resource center and several kosher grocery stores and restaurants have flooded.
“This is like Parshat Noach,” she said. “Nothing like this has ever happened here. It’s really unreal.”
She, her husband, Chaim, and their 6-year-old daughter, Oriyah, and 4-year-old son, Noach, have stayed dry in their second-floor apartment, but the first floor in their building flooded. On Aug. 27, the Red Cross airlifted residents out of the complex.
Around the nation, Jewish communities are stepping up to help those affected by the hurricane.
Bobylev said she and her family planned to stay put.
“In either direction of where we are there’s major flooding,” she said.
The synagogue she and her family attend, Congregation Torah Vachesed, flooded for the first time. Its mikvah and Rabbi Avraham Yaghobian’s house also flooded. United Orthodox Synagogue flooded, and Bobylev said congregants of Meyerland Minyan had to be air rescued.
The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center also flooded, as did nearby TORCH (the Torah Outreach Resource Center of Houston). Nearby Jewish-populated neighborhood Maplewood was “totally devastated,” she said.
She said the community is still making sure everyone is safe as search and rescue continues, so there hasn’t been much time to organize anything yet. Chabad is working to take kosher meals to shelters where there isn’t access to kosher food, she said.
She’s been in touch with people such as Baltimore philanthropist Frank Storch and life coach Rivka Malka Perlman, who are rallying to help the Houston Jewish community, and has been sharing that information with other locals via WhatsApp to boost morale.
Storch has been working to connect various volunteers and organizations looking to help in Texas.
“We’re all praying all over the world that there shouldn’t be any more loss of life and that the water should recede as quickly as possible,” he said. “They should all know we stand with them and care very much about the entire Houston community.”
Storch was also in touch with Miami resident David Goldwasser, who has been a volunteer EMT for five years. He was driving to Texas with two men who are retired from Army special operations with years of experience in search and rescue in combat.
The trio bought a boat they found on eBay in Homosassa, Fla., and went to a neighboring Walmart to pick up the boat supplies they’ll need. They were also planning to meet up with a group of Orthodox EMTs from New York on Aug. 28.
“We know the good people of Texas wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to come to us,” Goldwasser said, “and living in South Florida, we are definitely at the same risk Texas is.” Goldwasser has lived in Florida for 25 years and said he’s lived through about a dozen hurricanes, including Andrew.
“If anybody knows Frank, he’s the first person to jump in and help,” Goldwasser said. Storch said he would help raise funds to cover the trip’s expenses, Goldwasser said.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall the evening of Aug. 25 near Corpus Christi, about 200 miles southwest of Houston. At least 10 have been confirmed dead in the flooding.
Several Jewish community members led a volunteer emergency response team, and performed rescue operations Aug. 26 and 27.
“It’s really bad here,” Jewish community rescue volunteer Jenelle Garner said, reported the Jewish Herald-Voice. “We might be forced to leave.”
Rabbi Gidon Moskovitz of the Meyerland Minyan said that more than half of his congregation had “taken in water” up to 5 feet deep in their homes, reported Hamodia.
Chabad-Lubavitch said that one its emissaries in Houston had taken in several people after they had become trapped by flooding after Shabbat.
“I am sad to report that many of our friends who flooded in the recent past are flooded once again, and there are many others who have never been flooded before,” said Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, co-director of Chabad of Uptown with his wife, Chanie. “The rain is not stopping.”
Chabad-Lubavitch later announced it’s aiding Jewish residents of Houston with kosher meals, clean water and shelter.
Lazaroff said that Chabad Houses from across Texas are preparing to bring in fresh meals and supplies of kosher meat, chicken, milk and bottled water as soon as the flood waters recede enough so that deliveries can reach the city.
Relief efforts were underway even before the water started to recede.
“We are heartbroken to see the impact of the storm on our community,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston wrote Aug. 27 on its Facebook page, adding that it launched a donation page to collect funds for the community’s immediate needs.
Contributions to the Jewish Federation Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund can be made online at juf.org/HurricaneHarvey.
Marc Shapiro is the managing editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent. This article also contains information from jns.org.