“Hurricane Harvey TX, DR397-18, hit Texas hard from Corpus Christi all the way up the coast to the Louisiana state line, and inward as far north as Austin in some areas. Flooding in some areas was as much as 8 feet, and in the Corpus Christi area, more structural damage than flooding occurred. “ (Sarah Perkins, Pittsford, NY, Red Cross Disaster Assessment Lead)
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 Storm in Texas early in August, 2017, over one-half million residents were evacuated and 34,000 stayed in 240 Red Cross and partner shelters. On September 22, I deployed to Texas, joining 160 Red Cross volunteers from Western & Central New York.
I have been a Red Cross volunteer for over seven years, during which time I have deployed to tornadoes in Alabama, storms in Connecticut, wildfires in Northern California, Superstorm Sandy in NY, Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina and “Snowvember” here at home. These efforts literally fulfill the commandment of “Tikkun Olam”, repairing the world.
|A child's thank you letter to the Red Cross in Houston|
In Houston, I served as the Lead in Staff & Volunteer Relations, helping to anticipate and resolve problems between and among volunteers. With thousands of volunteers traveling to a place most had never been, doing things they might not have done, with people they didn’t know, and under difficult circumstances, the major problems were relatively few. Volunteers worked 12-14 hour days, 7-10 days in a row without a day off. Many lived in staff shelters. Despite these hardships and stresses, quality services were delivered and local residents responded gratefully, both personally and in cards and letters.
I had wanted to attend Yom Kippur services while in Houston. I met Diane Levine, Red Cross Spiritual Care Lead on the disaster, who referred me to Rabbi Steve Morgen from Congregation Beth Yeshurun, the largest Conservative synagogue in the U.S. He explained that the synagogue had been completely flooded, and although Torah scrolls and other books and materials had been saved, the building was totally unusable. Joel Osteen had then offered his Lakewood Church to Beth Yeshurun for their High Holiday services.
|Jai Lev Dravich (l) and Steven Schwartz at Kol Nidre Services|
Jai Lev Dravich, from Santa Cruz, CA, with whom I had worked during Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina, and I attended this remarkable Kol Nidre service. The huge arena (formerly a pro-hockey stadium) seated thousands of worshippers. Images of the synagogue’s beautiful tapestries were projected on the sides and back of the bimah. This was also Rabbi David Rosen’s last Kol Nidre service before his retirement after 22 years as Senior Rabbi. After his sermon, in an emotional tribute, he was lauded for his wonderful work, and it was announced that the new entrance to the rebuilt synagogue would be dedicated in his honor. His inspirational words engaged the entire congregation in the efforts to reclaim the synagogue from the flood waters as a physical act of Teshuva, the returning of Beth Yeshurun on Beechnut Street to the congregation. (To view the devastation and to help, see the website: www.bethyeshurun.org ). We returned to our duties knowing we had witnessed an historical event.
|Tapestry Projection Congregation Beth Yeshurun|
As of mid-October, the Red Cross had provided over $200 million in direct cash assistance to a half million households in Texas alone. Millions of meals, snacks and relief items were delivered and over 100,000 health and mental health services were provided. Six weeks from landfall, only two Red Cross shelters remained open, serving 700 residents. Over 1000 Red Cross disaster volunteers remained in Texas at that time. Additional efforts for Harvey extended into Louisiana.
|Clean up supplies in a Houston warehouse to be distributed to|
help families recovering after Hurricane Harvey
Overall, 16,000 Red Cross volunteers opened shelters ineight states, Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. They were joined by over 6,000 spontaneous volunteers. Your voluntary donations supported these efforts. The average cost of deploying a volunteer is $1650, and my friends and family raised nearly that amount.
To respond to local disasters, the Federation helped to establish the Buffalo Jewish Service Corps (BJSC). Over 70 members of the Buffalo Jewish community have received training in preparedness, psychological first aid and sheltering in preparation of a local response. The last training also included members of the local Muslim community. If you are interested in being a part of BJSC, please contact Steven Schwartz (email@example.com), or for more information about or becoming a Red Cross volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer.