How many people remember that the city of Houston was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in August? With our fast moving news cycle, it may seem like a blur in the past. That hurricane did major damage to Houston. As an email from our national Federation system stated:
Harvey dumped a trillion gallons of water over the course of just a few days. More than 2,000 Jewish homes were flooded, and seven major Jewish community facilities were significantly damaged or destroyed. 70% of the Jewish community lives in parts of the city that experienced severe flooding – including nearly 12,000 Jewish elderly. Schools and portions of the JCC and synagogues closed for weeks. The nursing home moved half of its residents to a higher floor to escape the flooding. Many in Houston lost everything – and it all happened in an instant. Unfortunately, traditional insurance doesn’t cover flood damage. Flood insurance only covers 5 to 10 percent of the costs – at best. In short, this was the largest loss ever by a single American Jewish community.
Steve Halpern, a Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Executive Committee member, wrote this after his experience visiting Houston in January:
Picture this. You live in a strong, vibrant American Jewish community of 60,000 Jews. Like Pittsburgh and Squirrel Hill, many of these Jews live in or near a single neighborhood. The community and neighborhood are home to a thriving JCC, several large synagogues with hundred year histories, multiple day schools with 1,400 total students, a well-established Jewish nursing home and the operations of the local Federation and Jewish Family Service. Impressively, the communal professionals and lay leaders collaborate very well with each other, and take a thoughtful approach to the future of their ecosystem in an increasingly diverse and changing world.
Why am I writing about Houston? Several of our top volunteer leaders like Steve participated in recent missions to Houston (in fact, Cindy Shapira chaired one of the missions) to learn about the damage and what the community is doing to recover. They returned with deep insights and emotional connections. They learned, for instance, that Jewish Houston residents are dealing with their own personal losses and damage and are therefore unable to keep up with synagogue and JCC memberships as well as donations. It’s truly a double whammy for the institutions with unmet capital needs and diminished revenue to support a now needier community.
Our Pittsburgh group is exerting its leadership in serving as a catalyst to help raise awareness within our Federation system to the needs of Houston. Additional missions have been scheduled. Approaches to new potential donors have taken place. My colleague Jason Shames from the Northern New Jersey Federation and I have taken the lead with our Large City Federation colleagues to encourage “loaning” the Houston Jewish community top professional assistance from other large Federation shops. Six professionals are lined up to spend significant time on the ground helping the Houston Federation in the weeks ahead.
Why do I share this with you? Because all of this clearly demonstrates the power of our Federation collective in vivid color. Because of your support of the Community Campaign, the Federation system was able to jump into action immediately. We are able to be there after a disaster because we were positioned the day before the disaster even hit.
Our Pittsburgh community has already raised over $100,000 for the Houston hurricane relief effort (which you will remember was during a time of repeated hurricanes in the Caribbean and southern United States). Our Federation is preparing to contribute another $10,000 from Emergency Funds we put aside every year for such disasters. If you want to do more to help Houston, we would appreciate your support OVER AND ABOVE your generous support of our Federation’s Community Campaign. You can give here.
I encourage you to watch this video about the Houston Jewish community to give you a real taste of the sustained impact.