By Sharon Wisch-Ray
The North Texas Jewish community responded quickly in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, opening its arms, homes and pocketbooks to victims of the storm. With the storm hitting over Shabbat, most coordination began to take place Sunday as synagogues and Jewish organizations reached out to their respective communities and outlined ways to help and volunteer.
“It is a coordinated effort of all the Jewish Federations of Texas with the JFNA and the Jewish Federation of Houston,” said JFGD CEO Bradley Laye. Amid the devastation, Laye explained that it was remarkable to see “the coordination of all the Jewish agencies across the state — JCCs, Federations, day schools, JFSes working together.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas is the central coordinating agency to raise money through the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which can be accessed on the Federation home page, www.jewishdallas.org.
One of the largest-scale efforts being funded through the Federation is the coordination of kosher meals through Dallas Kosher and its DK-approved caterers Lowell Michelson’s Simcha Kosher Catering, Howard Goldfeder’s Texas Kosher BBQ and Ceci Katz’s and Ruthy Henkin’s Taste of the World Catering. The process started when Houston Kashruth Association Executive Director Tzivia Weiss reached out to Dallas Kosher Kashrus Administrator Rabbi Sholey Klein and explained that Houston was out of kosher food. Not only were the stores closed, but also there was no kosher meat on the shelves. Rabbi Klein got creative and called Michelson and asked for help. Michelson responded with an enthusiastic yes.
What began as preparing 500 meals for Shabbat has morphed into serving kosher meals to the Houston Jewish community for the next several weeks. Michelson’s team was busy Monday and Tuesday procuring food and preparing meals for Thursday night, Shabbat dinner and Shabbat day. Weekday meals will be served hot and Shabbat meals can be eaten at room temperature. The biggest logistical problem Tuesday was figuring out how to get the truck into the heart of Houston’s Jewish community, explained Michelson.
“It’s getting the truck down I-45 through the water. That’s the problem.”
On Tuesday, Michelson’s professional staff was busy cutting up chicken and vegetables. A kosher chef from New York was flying in to volunteer his services. On Wednesday, community volunteers planned to place items in foil pans and tape up and label them with the DK hechsher. The hope is that Michelson will head to Houston by noon Thursday.
All meals will be served at the Robert M. Beren Academy, Houston’s Modern Orthodox Jewish day school near the Willow Meadows and Willowbend neighborhoods that were heavily damaged by the storm.
Goldfeder will bring his BBQ rig down to Houston starting Sunday and cook on site through Wednesday. Following Goldfeder, the plan is for Taste of the World to come on board for next Thursday through Shabbat.
Rabbi Klein explained that they are planning to provide food for three or four weeks including the Rosh Hashanah three-day holiday if necessary. By then, Houston’s kosher food pipeline may be back in business.
“The meals will be provided at no cost to the Houston Jewish community. No one will be turned away and there will be plenty of food.” Klein said. “Let them come and get a hot, nutritious meal,” the rabbi said. “Everyone is welcome.” Klein said that they are planning on making 1,000 meals and will have plenty.
Those interested in supporting the effort can donate to the Harvey Relief Fund at the Federation.
All North Texas-area Chabads are also coordinating efforts with their counterparts on the ground in Houston. Area Chabads held meetings Tuesday night to coordinate their efforts. On Wednesday, Rabbi Dov Mandel of Fort Worth Chabad drove a 26-foot truck with six pallets of kosher chicken and meat and other supplies. The food will be delivered to Houston Chabad and then distributed to the 11 Chabads in the area to distribute to the Greater Jewish community in need.
On Tuesday, Rabbi Menachem Block of Chabad of Plano arranged for 200 pounds of kosher meat to be delivered by Plano Chabad member Brian Honigbaum, who had to go assess damage in the area for another purpose. Rabbi Block had learned that all the Corpus Chabad’s meat had spoiled when the freezer went out there due to a power outage.
Jewish Family Service began receiving supplies immediately and has been designated by the Red Cross as a “go-to” agency for people to get items and resources. JFS is collecting diapers, shampoo, conditioner, feminine hygiene items, soap, water bottles, gas cards, cards for groceries, canned food (and can openers), and utensils. Items can be dropped off at JFS, 5402 Arapaho Road, Dallas, TX 75248 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
On Wednesday, the Aaron Family JCC became a drop-off point for supplies to be brought to the Houston JCC for distribution. Items requested are for moving boxes (flat), packing tape, gloves, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food. Initial plans are to begin sending the items to Houston by the end of the week.
As the need for relocation becomes clear in the coming days, Jewish Family Service and the Federation are partnering to coordinate hosting and housing options for people who need it.
By Tuesday, both of Texas’ Jewish camps had stepped in to assist Harvey’s victims and evacuees.
Camp Young Judaea in Wimberley emailed parents and alumni Monday evening, three days into the storm, opening its doors to families that have evacuated Houston, about a three-hour drive away. Ten families were expected to arrive starting Tuesday, and more are anticipated once families are able to leave the flooded city, where the roads are closed.
“As a camp director I have the opportunity every summer to create a community where campers and staffers live Jewishly at CYJ. We work hard to teach kids that they have the ability to change the world in their own way. In the wake of Harvey, CYJ has the opportunity to live our values and to use our resources to help the community. We hope that families who have been impacted will consider coming to our beautiful camp where we can provide food and housing and camp activities while they begin the difficult task of putting their lives back together,” CYJ Director Frank Silberlicht told the TJP on Tuesday.
URJ’s Greene Family Camp in Bruceville also offered space for families to stay. But staff realized that families would be better served by an impromptu day camp for kids in Houston, freeing up their parents to go back home and survey property damage. As of Tuesday afternoon, the camp was looking for space at dry Jewish institutions in the area and aiming to open Thursday.
The camp is also providing canned goods and clothes to those in need, and a few families have taken shelter at the overnight camp, where there is staff to care for them.
“We’re going to do everything we can to support them emotionally as well as physically, keep them occupied and try to take their minds off of what’s going on,” said Loui Dobin, the Greene Family Camp’s executive director.
Many synagogues and day schools are collecting supplies to be taken both to the Houston Jewish community and to evacuation shelters in Dallas.
“We could not be more proud of our community and you for your support,” said Federation CEO Bradley Laye and Board Chair Mark Kreditor in a joint email to the community outlining efforts Tuesday afternoon. “This is the ultimate expression of Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh b’Zeh — As Jews, we are responsible for one another. Our support will also extend to those most in need, regardless of faith, through our JFS and general efforts.”
Fort Worth Federation leadership echoed Laye and Kreditor. “Our tradition teaches us to thank God for Sukkot Shalom, the shelters of peace in our lives. And we are also taught to care for those in need who do not presently have the necessary shelters to protect themselves and their loved ones. May we combine our efforts in the coming days to take care of those in need.”
JTA’s Ben Sales contributed to this report.