Chicago Jews donate and pitch in to help Houston after Harvey

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic flooding, Jewish Chicagoans have offered in-kind donations and on-site assistance to help greater Houston and its Jewish community rebuild.

“The community has a long road ahead,” said Taryn Baranowski, Chief Marketing Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. A concentrated community of Jews living in the Meyerland, Bellaire and Memorial areas have homes still under water. Three of five major synagogues and other Jewish institutions sustained serious damage, she said. Ten feet of water flooded a Jewish community center.

From Skokie, 27 Fasman Yeshiva High School seniors flew to Houston with chaperones to assist in the clean-up for 48 hours. The young men helped repair houses and a synagogue, ripped off drywall, pulled up wet carpet and packed up pantries. They unloaded and distributed food and other supplies.

In the Jewish community of Myerland, entire front lawns were littered with ruined furniture and other belongings, said Rabbi Shmuel Schuman, CEO of Hebrew Theological College, which coordinated the student trip with the Orthodox Union and the Houston Federation.

“There’s a lot of appreciation for how hard we are working,” Schuman said. “We’re doing just whatever they want us to do, just helping them get their lives together.”

The volunteer team worked out of Beren Academy, an Orthodox day school, where the cafeteria prepared 1,500 meals a day for volunteers and local residents. The students camped out in basements of Jewish homes undamaged by the floods.

“It’s very bad in some areas,” said Jonathan Kosowsky, a Fasman senior, who helped remove damaged furnishings and debris. “A lot of work needs to be done; sadly we can’t do it all.”

Velvel Loeb, another senior, was glad he could make a dent.  “We could stay here for the next two weeks and have our hands full.”

Senior Tzadok Cohen said he helped clean one Jewish home that took on six feet of water. The damaged holy books were collected and carted off to a Jewish cemetery for a proper burial.

Eight students from Houston attending Fasman were prevented from traveling to Skokie for the start of the academic year the final week of August, said Shalom Klein, director of external affairs for Hebrew Theological College.

The college has made housing arrangements on their Skokie campus for Jewish Texas residents needing temporary accommodations.

Collecting and trucking supplies

In Chicago, Jewish community volunteers collected and loaded two semi-trailer trucks with supplies for hurricane relief.

The effort was coordinated by Michael Lorge and Congregation Temple Beth in Skokie. Over two days, 170 volunteers packaged supplies as long lines of cars dropped them off at a collection point, said Lorge. His appeal went viral on social media.

The items donated included toiletries, new baby and children’s clothes, new toys, toilet paper and paper towels, cleaning supplies and bottled water.

“Everyone watching the images out of Houston had to feel great compassion and great pain,” said Lorge, who persuaded truck drivers to donate their time and fuel for the 16-hour trip to a supply clearinghouse in Houston. “Everyone wants to reach out and help folks in this situation in terms of tangible needs and emotional support.”

A table was set up for volunteers to pen messages of goodwill and support on the 1,000 boxes of labeled supplies. More than 800 cases of water were donated. The donations were not specific to the Jewish community in Houston.

The Jewish Federation of Houston is still seeking funds to aid the community, said Baranowski, whose organization has collected more than $8 million. To make the community whole again, she estimates $30 million will be needed. To stay updated on appeals for help, visit the federation’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HoustonJewish/

“We are so thankful for the outpouring of support from across the country and the world,” Baranowski said. “We’re a very resilient community and know we all have to work together to get through this.”

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