The following email from Jewish Federations of North America CEO Jerry Silverman was received Thursday regarding the three natural disasters that have affected Jews in the Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. (Jewish Federations of North America is the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s national organization.) The email consists of updated information on the status of the Jewish communities in the affected areas.
In addition, the below information highlights the immense needs of these communities. As Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of atonement, begins tonight at sundown, we hope that the victims of these natural disasters will be a part of your time of reflection during this most holy time of the year.
We encourage our Update readers to consider making a contribution to relief efforts through JFNA’s Emergency Relief Fund (link below). The BJF has made contributions to the relief fund after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Here is the email.
The past five weeks since the start of Hurricane Harvey have seen the biggest succession of massive natural disasters to hit North America. JFNA’s Emergency Committee process has been stretched beyond capacity by the number of events and locations requiring urgent attention.
The devastation across the Houston region generally and in the Jewish community is on the scale of Katrina in New Orleans. With an estimated 2,000 homes flooded and seven major community facilities severely damaged the short, near and long term needs for the Jewish community are now estimated in excess of $30 million. In addition, the small neighboring communities of Galveston and Beaumont/Port Arthur have a number of Jewish families with severely flooded homes.
The Federation system has raised about $15.5 million. More than half of this figure has been raised by the Houston Federation. It is likely that this number is based on under-reported fundraising results at the community level and we also anticipate several additional significant foundation grants will be approved in the next week. But these other resources are not likely to amount to more than $2-3 million, leaving Houston with unmet needs, at least at this point.
In most of Florida and the neighboring states to the north, Hurricane Irma had varying degrees of impact. For the most part, the areas with the largest Jewish populations on the east coast were spared significant damage. The most severe damage to homes and communal institutions are in Naples, Jacksonville and St. Augustine. In addition, there are smaller communities up through Georgia that are reporting the need for some assistance for families and infrastructure.
The long power outages in the week following the storm created a significant short-term health issue, especially for seniors, and several Federations and Chabad engaged in extensive outreach, visiting, and food and water delivery efforts. The JFNA Emergency Committee provided emergency grants to a several local Federations last week. Other Federations took emergency response actions and the JFNA Emergency Committee will consider further grants to support these efforts as needed. JFNA is still assessing longer-range needs across the broad number of communities hit by Irma.
Many people have been evacuated from both areas but there are small numbers of Jews who will not leave because they are involved professionally in government, medicine or other critical fields. The lack of communal infrastructure beyond the individual synagogue level provides additional challenges for JFNA and our Federations. JFNA is in active contact with and supporting the synagogue communities in both areas.
Maria had a crushing impact on several island nations and in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Jewish community is about 1,500 people. It has two synagogues and a Chabad presence. The entire power grid for the island may be out for 4-6 months and the challenges ahead for the Jewish community there and for the general population are enormous. JFNA is working actively with local leadership in Puerto Rico to bring assistance to the island as quickly as possible. IsraAid also now has a team operating in Puerto Rico working directly with the Jewish community.
The Unetaneh Tokef prayer at the heart of the High Holiday service reads:
On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague …