When I think of 12 feet of water, I think of my old swimming pool. I could never imagine that amount of water flooding my basement.
That's exactly what they found six months ago in the basement of the Rubenstein JCC in Houston, Texas, causing nearly $6 million in damage. Houston's Orthodox synagogue must be demolished after absorbing $9.5 million in damage. The city's largest Conservative synagogue and Day School - comprising nearly 2,000 families - had 4 feet of water flood the main sanctuary and chapel. They lost all of their offices and a rare collection of scholarly work attributed to their former senior rabbi. They face a nearly $10 million restoration. Seven Acres, the community's senior care center, faces damages exceeding $14 million. And the list goes on: thousands of families displaced and lives disrupted.
This past Sunday, along with other Federation CEOs, I took part in a private tour of Houston's Jewish community. Until you witness the devastation, smell the traces of mold and see the remnants of water damage... until you stand in the shul where, by boat, they rescued the Torah scrolls from the rising waters... it all seems surreal.
That's a tragedy, but there is also another side to the story. Houston is a shining example of how our global Jewish community can mobilize to help those in need. Federations and other Jewish organizations responded immediately with financial and on-the-ground assistance. Within hours, the Dallas Federation had collected two large tractor trailers full of supplies and our national organization, Jewish Federations of North America, was on the ground providing logistical support. Houston's Federation convened leaders from all the affected organizations to coordinate every aspect of relief. Hundreds of volunteers from across the U.S. flew to Texas to help with cleanup and support traumatized community members. And with the help of the Israeli Consulate, the government of Israel committed $1 million toward relief and recovery, and the Israel Trauma Center flew in to provide services. What an incredible sense of connection and collective responsibility! What incredible pride in our community!
That said, recovery will take a long time. So far, we have collectively raised over $16 million to restore Jewish life in Houston. But it's estimated that an additional $30 million is needed to complete the renovations and restorations and to continue providing community support. Meanwhile, spring is about to begin in Houston - the time of year when flooding again becomes a concern.
Allowing Houston to face this challenge alone is not in our DNA. As Jews and as Americans, we join hands to support those in need. It's simply who we are.
At Federation, our primary role is to harness the resources to address the immediate and long-term needs of individuals and communities. That's why I'm asking you, this Shabbat, to consider how you can help our brothers and sisters in Houston restore and repair their community and their lives.
Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom.
President and CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford