Updates on Federations' Response to Natural Disasters [10/27]


On Friday, October 27, Mark Gurvis, Executive Vice President, Jewish Federations of North America, released the following statement providing the latest updates regarding Federations' national emergency response efforts.

JFNA’s Emergency Committee, and many of our Federations on the front lines of addressing natural disasters, have had an extraordinarily busy and taxing eight weeks since the start of Hurricane Harvey. We thank all of our Federations and Network communities who have worked to mobilize support and resources through our Jewish Federation system in addressing the many urgent needs arising from these disasters.
Following is an update on the work of our system to date:
Hurricane Harvey
Seven weeks following the end of the rain, Houston and the other areas affected by Hurricane Harvey are still in fairly early stages of recovery.  With more than 2,000 Jewish homes flooded, and 8 major institutional facilities in the Jewish community sustaining catastrophic damage, the scope of issues facing the Houston Jewish community are enormous.
To date approximately $17.9M has been raised through the Jewish Federation system, as follows:
$6.5M raised by Jewish Federations across North America
$9.1M raised by the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston
$1.3M contributed by Jewish Foundations (does not include foundation grants to local Federations or the Houston Federation, which are incorporated in the figures above)
$1M committed by the Government of Israel
Of this amount, over $12M has been allocated through the Houston Federation and the national Emergency Committee process to provide direct relief to flood victims (trauma counseling, case management and financial assistance), to help these individuals and families to stay connected to Jewish life and community, and to address institutional sustainability and repair issues. The focus of the Jewish Federations’ national funding is primarily in the area of relief to flood victims. While the primary focus is on the enormous impact of the flood in Houston, our Emergency Committee has also worked with the small communities in Galveston and Beaumont to assist those communities.
JFNA’s Emergency Committee is meeting again during the week of October 30th to consider a significant further allocation of national funds.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria
The impact on mainland Florida from Hurricane Irma was less severe than anticipated, especially for the larger concentrations of Jewish population on Florida’s east coast.  While the larger communities in South Florida (Miami, Broward County, South Palm Beach and Palm Beach) were generally able to address the issues in their own communities and extend assistance to other communities, there was heavier impact on some of the smaller communities further north (Collier County, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine). A unique role was fulfilled by Chabad across numerous Florida communities in providing congregate and home-delivered meals to seniors and others affected by prolonged power outages.
The biggest impact of these storms have been felt in the islands off the coast of Florida, within and beyond the US border - Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the Florida Keys, Cuba, and others.  The national Emergency Committee has focused on the US communities affected, while our partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, is supporting Cuba and other island nations.  The major focus of our efforts has been in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, which are both characterized by small Jewish communities deeply affected amidst a sea of misery well-documented in the news media.
None of these communities have communal infrastructure beyond individual synagogues and our support has primarily been directly to affected individuals through the various congregations, and supporting the work of IsraAID and the AFYA Foundation, who are providing humanitarian assistance to the Jewish communities and on a significant non-sectarian basis.
North Bay Fires in California
The most recent focus of disaster relief efforts has been in response to the extensive wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties in California.  Over the period it took to get the fires contained, a very extensive area was devastated by the fires, resulting in the loss of 7,000.
Within the Jewish community, dozens of Jewish homes were destroyed by fire, and URJ’s Camp Newman was also largely destroyed.  The Jewish Federation of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties and the Jewish Federation of the East Bay Jewish Federation partnered together to create the North Bay Wildfire Relief Fund, and have coordinated their relief efforts during and in the immediate aftermath of the fires.  JFNA has not established a separate national fund and encourages all Federations to direct relief funds to the joint fund established by the Bay Area federations. For more information, click here.



On Thursday, September 28, Jerry Silverman, President and CEO, Jewish Federations of North America, released the following statement providing the latest update regarding Federations' continued response to recent natural disasters.

As we head into Yom Kippur, we still have five weeks of hurricane season ahead. I think we can all share the profound hope that the next five weeks will be less disastrous than the last five. Attached HERE is an important update on JFNA’s extensive work in emergency response prepared by JFNA Executive Vice President, Mark Gurvis, who has led our efforts these past five weeks. It not only provides a summary of the challenges and responses, but also outlines the significant priority and policy issues that have surfaced as a result of this hard season. I want to urge you see this as a call to action.

We need to raise more funds – There are overwhelming needs in Houston where the scope of damage to individual homes and communal institutions poses serious risk to an entire community’s stability and sustainability. The more recent hurricanes have left whole island communities already suffering from abject poverty, mired in a desperate battle to meet the most basic needs. We have existential Jewish communal and human issues to address. We urge you to help us meet both these challenges: raise more funds to help Houston recover, and help both Jews and non-Jews in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.  


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 …

It also reads that Tzedakah is one of the three things that lessens the decree. This is our holy calling. Now is the time to lead our communities in responding to the overwhelming needs that have hit us these past five weeks.



On Tuesday, September 20, Mark Gurvis, Executive Vice President, Jewish Federations of North America, released the following statement providing an update regarding Federations' continued response to natural disasters. 

Dear Colleagues:

We head into the new Jewish year – 5778 – beset by a series of natural disasters that are taking their toll on millions of people. Hurricane Maria is pounding the Caribbean Islands as Jose is creating flooding in the Northeast. We are still tracking damage from Irma’s wide path across Florida into neighboring states, while Houston has barely started on its gargantuan journey of recovery from Harvey. Two massive earthquakes in Mexico round out the picture. All this in the space of less than four weeks. A team of JFNA staff will be on call and available to the affected communities through the Rosh Hashanah holiday as needed.

JFNA’s Emergency Committee has met three times since the onset of Hurricane Harvey and will continue meeting actively over the weeks to come.

The response across our system has been terrific. But it is clear that significantly greater resources will be needed to address the scope of needs across all the affected areas and we will be challenged to get you detailed information quickly on everything. After a disaster, it takes time to build the detailed analysis of needs, but we must be positioned to respond quickly now on many fronts. 

Following are a series of updates:


Hurricane Harvey –Through the combined efforts of JFNA and the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, a total of $14.M has been committed as of September 19, 2017. This includes $5.8M raised in Houston, $5M from Federations across North America, $2.2M from national Jewish foundations, and $1M from the Government of Israel. 

Hurricane Irma – The response across the system has been much more muted – a consequence of the timing right on the heels of Harvey. As of yesterday, we had a total of $205,000 committed, either to the national donation site or allocations from communities.

Specific Responses to Disasters

Hurricane Maria

JFNA’s Emergency Committee and Network staff are closely tracking the trajectory and impact of the storm on the Caribbean Islands. In particular:

St. Thomas – US Virgin Islands – yesterday, JFNA was able to procure 200 generators and is making arrangements to ship them to the Hebrew Congregation in St. Thomas as soon as possible. We are working on additional supplies urgently needed by the community.

Puerto Rico – JFNA staff has been in regular contact with the synagogues in Puerto Rico heading into the storm and will assess and respond to their needs as soon as contact resumes.

Non-US locales – our partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working to respond to the needs in other Caribbean nations affected by the various hurricanes and is increasing their efforts in the wake of this latest storm. IsraAid is currently positioned in Haiti and prepared to deploy after the storm.

Mexico Earthquakes

IsraAid and the Israel Defense Forces are deploying to Mexico to provide immediate assistance in the wake of yesterday’s devastating earthquake, the second massive earthquake to hit Mexico in two weeks. The IsraAid team is deploying alongside an IDF delegation of 70 soldiers and officers. 

The JDC is working in partnership with Cadena, Mexico, a local NGO, to provide assistance, as well. JDC is opening an emergency fund for the Mexico situation.

Rina Goldberg in JFNA’s Israel office is the point of information on Mexico.

Hurricane Jose

This hurricane grazed the northeast coast. While there have been reports of some coastal flooding, we are not yet aware of any specific impacts on Jewish communities.

Hurricane Harvey

JFNA’s Emergency Committee approved grants this past week to the small communities in Beaumont/Port Arthur and Galveston to assist local families affected by the hurricane. Intensive work continues with Houston to help the community mobilize a comprehensive response to their needs, estimated in the $30M range.

CLICK HERE to read JFNA's Hurricane Emergency Response brief and CLICK HERE to learn about Hurricane Harvey's allocations and how your donation helped those in need! 


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