JFNA Update on Harvey & Irma Relief Efforts


On Wednesday, September 13, Jerry Silverman, President and CEO, Jewish Federations of North America, released the following update on Federations' collective response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  

Hurricane Irma: Long-Term Power Outages Creating Health Risks for Seniors

Hurricane Irma’s unexpected shift to Florida’s west coast appears to have mostly spared our largest Jewish population centers from what could have been a terrible disaster. But long-term power outages in Florida’s hot and humid climate are raising serious health concerns, especially for many seniors. According to The New York Times, there have already been a number of deaths in nursing homes. Some areas of the state could be looking at 10 more days without electricity.

Jacob Solomon, president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, spoke to The Jerusalem Post earlier this week and mentioned the community’s concern for vulnerable populations like the elderly.

JFNA has checked with every affected community, and preliminary reports show moderate to little institutional damage. The major facilities that support Jewish communal life are intact. However, we are still working to get a handle on the number of individual homes affected by flooding.

Hurricane Harvey Relief: $12 Million Raised; Initial Needs Assessment Should Be Completed this Week

To date, the Hurricane Harvey relief effort has raised about $12 million. Later this week, JFNA’s Emergency Committee and the Houston Federation’s local allocations committee are both meeting to review a comprehensive framework to address recovery and rebuilding needs, now estimated to be in the $26-33 million range.

JFNA’s third national team is on the ground in Houston this week, represented by Joy Goldstein, associate vice president of planning at JFNA, and Andi Milens, director of engagement and leadership development at the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City. Local focus remains strong on readying synagogues for the High Holiday season and on maintaining the campaign’s momentum.

National Young Leadership Cabinet gathered 20 people from communities around the country last week for a three-day mission to Houston, which was well-received. The group was involved in setting up the JCC’s temporary preschool site and in cleaning up homes. Here’s a video they produced about the visit.

We have begun to gather stories of how Federations have helped flood victims. Below is the first of what we hope will be regular installments.



Humbled by the Need to Ask for Help; Trauma Counseling Made a Critical Difference

On the night Hurricane Harvey flooded their home, two of Judi and Roger’s four sons were staying with their grandparents. They were the lucky ones. Since that night, the rest of the family has been struggling to overcome the trauma. And Judi is grateful to the Jewish Federation for providing not only practical support to help them put their lives back together, but also the trauma counseling she and her family needed.

Their home had never been flooded before — neither had their street — and they were unprepared for just how quickly it happened. Before they even had a chance to pack a change of clothes, the family found themselves huddled on a bed, watching in disbelief as the water rushed in and surrounded them. It was too late to get to the roof of their one-story house, so when their neighbors offered them a room on their second floor, Roger put his seven-year-old son on his shoulders and they all waded outside through waist-deep water.

“We were on our neighbor’s second floor for three days,” Judi recounted. All four of them, along with two dogs, using a child’s bedroom as a shelter, with their hosts in the room next door and a foot of water on the first floor. Rather than attempt evacuation, they decided it would be safer and more comfortable to stay put.

Out on the street, the water current was so strong that Judi couldn’t get into her house to try to salvage a few things. When she finally was able to get inside, she grabbed her laptop and a few other items. But virtually everything the family owned was destroyed. 

The Jewish community came through with the help they needed. Meals arrived, and volunteers showed up to help them sort through their belongings. The JCC handed out supplies and Target gift cards. The Federation provided emergency money to get them through the weekend, no questions asked. Volunteers from the Federation’s Young Leadership department came to help them pack up. “When everyone else had left, they stayed and continued to help us. Even when I said, ‘No, other people need help more,’ they still sent help. They knew I needed it.”

But for Judi and her family, the most valuable service the Jewish community provided was trauma counseling. “Jewish Family Service set up shop in the JCC, providing someone I could talk to who was there to listen when I really needed it. I could break down because they were there to help.”

A therapist herself, Judi has been moved by the support offered to her family. “It’s not easy for me to ask for help — I’m used to giving help. It’s been a humbling experience,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to have this community. The Houston Jewish community will survive this and come back stronger.”


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