Alaskans and Texans share a bond, created both in the common oil industries that support each state and in the pioneer spirit that the inhabitants of both states seem to possess. Alaska is often filled with Texan transplants, both companies and workers and we often playfully tease each other, with Alaskans pointing out that while Texans are so proud of their “big state,” actually Alaska is far bigger.
Right now, though, Texas is reeling and in particular, Houston, which also has a sizeable Orthodox Jewish community. Like most Orthodox communities, their community is tight-knit and geographically close together and, unfortunately, they are in a part of the city that has been hit hard by tropical storm Harvey. I found this firsthand account by the Rebbetzin of one of their Orthodox Synagogues and it’s very moving:
MY EXPERIENCE OF THE HOUSTON FLOOD BY REBBETZIN GABI GELMAN
I am originally from Belle Harbor, New York, and we moved to Houston 14 years ago so my husband could become the rabbi of an Orthodox shul here. There are about 50,000 Jews living in the Houston area.
This is the 3rd time our house has flooded. In 2015 we were living in a house we owned across the street from our shul, and there was a storm that flooded the shul, our house, as well as many others. We had about 3 feet of water in our house and lost all of our furniture and a lot of our possessions. We lived with our neighbors down the street for 3 months, and then in a rental apartment for a year.
During our time in the rental apartment, in April 2016, Houston flooded again and many people from our community got flooded a 2nd time . The house we had left also flooded then, but we had not returned to it, so it didn’t impact us much.
Now Hurricane Harvey has hit Houston and we are flooded again. Since our house had flooded twice already, we had decided not to return to it and bought a new house, one that historically had never flooded.
We moved into it last year in June and we were confident that we would never get flooded again.
Saturday night, after Shabbos, the rain was coming down heavily and very quickly the streets were filling up with water.
Even though our house had never flooded in the past, we began to become concerned and started to lift things up off the floor- we put our couch on folding chairs, wrapped the legs of our table with plastic bags, and lifted up anything that was on a bottom shelf.
All Saturday night, it rained and rained, and we saw that the water was steadily creeping up toward our front door.
By Sunday morning, we really thought our house was going to flood (our house only has one floor, so we could not go upstairs to escape the rising water).
So we quickly packed a “go bag”- electronics, important papers, a change of clothing, and left our home with a kayak/raft.
Starting about 5 am on Sunday, some members of our community had been going around the neighborhood helping people evacuate from their homes to safer places.
We went to a friend’s house – she has a 2nd floor so we knew we would be safe even if her first floor flooded. In the end, she had 24 people in her home, plus a dog. Power went out quickly, and we all spent a long night alternating between a hot, dark second floor and running to the hallway during tornado warnings.
Today (Monday, August 28th) even though it is still raining heavily, the water has subsided somewhat. We walked to our house to see the damage- we have about 2 feet of water in the house and many things are ruined.
Thank G-d, for us this flood is better for us than the one 2 years ago, because we’ve had less water and we had some time to prepare and get ready.
Our house is not livable right now. We are spending tonight at our local day school which has power and air conditioning. The next step for everyone here is to wait for the rain to stop- and then to begin cleanup and the fixing of our home. While we fix our house we may rent an apartment, but there will be a rush now on any available housing.
My in-laws moved down to Houston a few years ago from New York to be close to us, so once we can get to their apartment (right now roads are impassable) we can stay with them for a while.
We have 5 kids- 3 are not home right now. Sam (21) is a Yeshiva University student. Lilly (20) is at Stern College. Ben (18) is learning in yeshiva in Israel. Eli (13) and Amichai (10) are with us.
All our children are very upset and anxious. They feel betrayed because after going through the 2015 flood and losing their house and many of their possessions, we had told them that this new house would be safe and not flood and now, here they are, going through this all over again. My older kids feel nervous and message us often to see if we are OK and to find out what is happening.
Our shul- United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) sustained terrible damage. In 2015, part of it flooded but a raised social hall was available after the flood to hold services and as a safe meeting place for the community. This time, the water was so high that every part of the shul was flooded – the sanctuary, beit midrash, social halls, mikvah…Torahs were saved and removed before this past Shabbat, but everything else has water damage
Also, here in Houston, we have a few different areas that have Orthodox shuls. This storm affected ALL of them (some more than others). It has affected so many people- many who were the ones offering help in 2015. This will be an issue going forward as we will have so many more people who will need help to recover.
Locally and nationally, we have received an outpouring of love and support. Right away, messages and calls were coming in- to see how people could help and to check if we were OK. Since we are still in the thick of the storm, really nothing can be done right now. Afterwards we will need so much assistance.
What gives me chizuk? The outpouring of kindness and goodness that we see during a disaster like this gives you faith in humankind in general. Specifically, in our Jewish community, where we know that we will band together, and help each other.
People will not be left homeless and will not be alone. The Jewish community is already gathering information on the needs people will have
There are no divisions- Orthodox, Modern, Conservative, Reform- whatever label you associate with- after an event like this- all Jews are family, and family helps family.
I’ve also heard of Chabad of Houston coming together to help feed people as well as countless acts of kindness and bravery by the people living there and those who have come from all over the country to help where they can.
If you would like to help the Orthodox Jewish community of Houston now, either with a donation or tehillim, these links can help:
To donate to assist the struggling Jews of Houston whose homes have been flooded (some of whom, unfortunately, do not have flood insurance), you can visit the website of United Orthodox Synagogues (https://www.uosh.org/payment.php) or The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston (https://secure3.convio.net/jfna/site/Donation2…). Visit the website of the Orthodox Union ( https://www.ou.org/tehillim-chizuk-houston/) to send chizuk to Houston’s Jewish community and to sign up to say Tehillim.
The only good thing about storms like these is that it gives all of us a chance to show the very best side of humanity and to come together to help each other.