JFS shifts focus to long-term care
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
A little over two weeks after Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, support services from Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Greater Dallas have transitioned from crisis intervention to long-term recovery.
More than 70 percent of Houston’s 60,000-plus Jews live in the area hardest hit, according to the Houston Jewish Federation.
The outpouring of support through JFS was phenomenal over the first two weeks of the crisis. According to JFS:
More than 574 individuals volunteered on their own.
Jewish groups that sent volunteers to JFS included: Akiba Academy, Congregation Beth Torah, Congregation Nishmat Am, Congregation Shearith Israel, The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, The Jewish Community Center, Levine Academy, Mesorah High School for Girls and Take Charge.Period, Temple Emanu-El and Temple Shalom, among others.
As Harvey relief efforts were underway, an additional 70 volunteers offered their support in the day-to-day operations of the JFS Food Pantry and home delivery of kosher meals.
Seven truckloads of items were collected and sent to the Houston area.
By Sept. 8, 148,497 diapers and 93,632 wipes had been collected specifically for Harvey relief.
JFS Dallas has collected more than $64,000 in financial donations to help provide emergency financial assistance and long-term services to evacuees.
JFS is a Harvey Resource Center in order to assist evacuees that come through its doors.
“With our expertise in providing wrap-around services, we now turn our focus to ongoing recovery efforts to those affected by Hurricane Harvey,” explained Leah Guskin, JFS director of Marketing and Communication. Services include long-term assistance with job search and placement; services to older adults; food pantry and financial assistance; services for children, including those with special needs; mental health counseling and case management.
Over the course of the next several weeks, JFS clinical staff and case managers will head to Houston on a rotating basis to assist JFS Houston with case management and counseling.
The Dallas Jewish community quickly sprang into action to lend a hand to their fellow Texans. The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas funded a number of programs to get aid to the Houston Jewish community, starting with the most basic need — food. Under Federation auspices, Dallas Kosher coordinated the services of Dallas-area kosher caterers Simcha Kosher Catering, Texas Kosher BBQ and Taste of the World to provide meals on a daily basis for one week and through two Shabbatot. About 1,000 meals a day were provided. Weekday meal service ended Sept. 8.
On Sept. 3, Federation CEO Bradley Laye and JCC CEO Artie Allen drove a 15-foot truck packed with donations to Houston. It accompanied a 52-foot tractor-trailer filled to the brim with donations from Dallas and around the country.
The following week, the JCC continued to serve as a central hub for donations for the Hurricane-stricken area. Many of these items were sent through Amazon from federations across the country.
On Wednesday, Sept 6, Temple Emanu-El volunteers filled a truck at JFS and shipped supplies to Houston. The truck returned to Dallas, where Emanu-El volunteers and others reconvened at the JCC Friday, Sept. 8 to load it again for Beaumont and Rockport.
“I can honestly say it’s been a while since I’ve been as moved emotionally about what it means to be part of a people and a community that snaps into action when the call is made,” wrote Laye in his biweekly community email Thursday. “I remarked to many people that this is the reason the Federation exists. You cannot build it for when you need it; whether the ‘it’ is missiles or rockets flying into Israel, storms hitting our local communities, raising much needed funds for a community-wide effort like our capital campaign in the early 2000s.
“Our Federation is the one organization that can marshal the human and financial resources of our community when needed on a large scale,” he added. The Jewish Federations of North America, of which the Dallas and Fort Worth and Tarrant County Federations are a part, has raised nearly $8 million for Harvey relief.
There are myriad other acts of chesed that have been reported. On Labor Day, Levine Academy eighth-grade girls spent their day off from school organizing a bake sale and lemonade stand for victims of Hurricane Harvey, raising more than $560. Students from Mesorah High School baked 2,000 challahs and rolls for the first Shabbat weekend in Houston. Dozens of volunteers showed up to help package foods to ship to Houston or sort clothing at JFS as calls went out over social media to help.
Many synagogues have opened their doors to evacuees for the High Holidays.
“We are making preparations to open our doors as wide as possible in the coming weeks,” wrote the Shearith Israel Klei Kodesh, Aug. 29. Those who know of evacuees who would like to attend services should contact Katie Venetsky at email@example.com.
Tiferet Israel Congregation will honor High Holy Day tickets of coastal area evacuees if they are unable to attend the services of their own synagogue. Rabbi Shawn Zell has personally reached out to the rabbis in the affected synagogues to invite any of their congregants who might be in the Dallas area to join Tiferet Israel for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. The shul is encouraging Tiferet families host evacuees for Rosh Hashanah meals as well.
“If we open our congregation, our homes and hearts for those affected, it will be a positive beginning for the New Year, “said Tiferet Rabbi Shawn Zell.
Please contact Jennifer Williams at 214-691-3611 or Jennifer@tiferetisrael.org if you are an evacuee who would qualify for this special offer or know anyone who is.
The needs of Houston’s Jewish community are unknown and will continue to unfold for the next several weeks, months and beyond. What is certain is that their fellow Jewish Texans will step up and meet those needs to the best of their ability.