Jewish community sets up funds to help Houston

Hurricane Harvey, blamed for nine deaths by Tuesday morning, is continuing to displace thousands of people throughout the Gulf Coast region, like this woman being rescued by a member of the Texas National Guard. (Photo by Texas National Guard)

For Avital Ingber, seeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston from afar like so many others, has left her feeling helpless. But she’ll be in Houston soon, as the incoming CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.

“It’s heartbreaking and devastating to see the photos and hear the stories of what the community is experiencing,” said Ingber, the chief development officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington until she moves to Texas in November.

Ingber said she is in constant communication with the departing CEO, Lee Wunsch, with those who have been affected and with other CEOs from federations across the country. All are ready to help.

The best way to help right now, said both Ingber and Taryn Baranowski, the chief marketing officer for the Houston federation, is financially. By Sunday evening, the Washington Federation had set up a dedicated fund that will go aid victims of the flooding.

“The challenge right now is that we don’t have all the information because the weather is still so bad,” Baranowski said. She said that about 71 percent of the Jewish population of Houston lives in areas most affected by flooding.

Despite the urge to lend a hand in Houston, Baranowski said, no one should try to travel to volunteer there yet, especially with more bad weather on the horizon. Wait until the community has had a chance to assess the damage and understand how to start rebuilding, she said.

When it is safe to go, a number of synagogues, including in Washington, have expressed interest in setting up volunteer trips.

“Once the damage is fully assessed, there will likely be opportunities through synagogues and other humanitarian groups to volunteer on the ground in support of the relief effort,” Zach Briton, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s campaign director, said in an email. “All relief efforts right now are being directed to ensure the safety of all those who have been affected.”

In addition to the Washington federation, B’nai B’rith International has opened its Disaster Relief Fund to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey. The organization will “continue to monitor and assess the needs of those in Texas,” according to a prepared statement.

The Jewish Federations of North America opened an emergency relief fund to support communities and individuals in Houston, San Antonio, Galveston, Corpus Christi and other areas that have been hammered by Hurricane Harvey, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Maayan Bobylev has had a front seat to the unprecedented decimation. She lives in the Nob Hill Apartments, situated on Brays Bayou, which overflowed onto the streets.

In the heavily Jewish area of Houston, at least three synagogues, the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC, a community resource center and several kosher grocery stores and restaurants have flooded. Before the hurricane, the JCC had collected emergency supplies and will serve as a distribution center for the Jewish community.

“This is like Parshat Noach,” she said, referring to the biblical flood. “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. Sunday, the Red Cross airlifted residents out of the complex.

The relentless rain has turned streets into fast-moving rivers, stranded people in flooded homes and turned communities into lakes.

The hurricane initially made landfall on Friday evening near Corpus Christi, Texas, about 200 miles southwest of Houston.

Life-saving rescues of people and pets have continued for days, amid the torrential storm and rising

With rain continuing, the National Hurricane Center has warned that “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues in southeastern Texas and flash flood emergencies are in effect for portions of this area.”

The National Hurricane Center said that an additional 12 to 25 inches of rain are expected to accumulate through Friday over the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana, with isolated areas receiving up to 50 inches of rain including the Houston/Galveston metropolitan area. It also warned of possible tornadoes over the next day. More than 24 inches of rain had fallen between late Saturday night and late Sunday night alone.

Residents have been evacuated from homes, nursing homes, cars, small boats and more, by professionals, volunteers and neighbors, and by boat, helicopter and people wading through water. Many were taken to makeshift shelters since the emergency shelters prepared for the natural disaster proved to not be enough.

Houston’s two main airports reportedly suspended commercial flights and two hospitals evacuated their patients. Freeways throughout the city were under water with some flood waters nearly reaching the bottom of road signs.

By Tuesday morning, at least nine people were confirmed dead in the flooding.

—March Shapiro, managing editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, and JTA News and Features contributed to this report.

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