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50 Rabbis in Houston Counsel, Cheer and Support Hurricane Victims

50 Rabbis in Houston Counsel, Cheer and Support Hurricane Victims

They traveled to Texas from a dozen U.S. states to help

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Rabbi Mendy Rubenfeld of Poway, Calif., blows the shofar for disaster victims and volunteers in Houston. He is one of 50 rabbis from a dozen states helping out spiritually and materially in homes, shelters and hospitals.
Rabbi Mendy Rubenfeld of Poway, Calif., blows the shofar for disaster victims and volunteers in Houston. He is one of 50 rabbis from a dozen states helping out spiritually and materially in homes, shelters and hospitals.

Witnessing the “sheer depth of loss” firsthand, 50 rabbis from a dozen different states set out to homes, shelters and hospitals in Houston this week to give spiritual and material comfort and aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

After morning prayers at Chabad’s Aishel House at the Texas Medical Center in Houston on Tuesday, the rabbis spent their first day on the ground in small groups, assigned to different neighborhoods all over the city. They joined local volunteers in salvaging homes, brought cheer to residents of area nursing facilities and made themselves available to anyone in need.

In the afternoon, many of the rabbis joined up with the Red Cross to serve dinner to people who had lost their homes. In addition to the food, they made sure to proffer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

“People have been holding it together for so long without an outlet,” relates Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, director of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore in Swampscott, Mass., and co-founder of 1Mitzvah, the organization sponsoring the mission.

“When they see us, members of the clergy visiting them, they just break down. There were a lot of tears today.”

“This is the busiest time of the year for rabbis,” he continues, noting that the High Holidays begin in two weeks. “Beyond whatever work they will do on the ground, the presence of these rabbis sends a powerful message to the people whose lives have been affected. We are here because we care. The Jewish people care about you; we will not forget you.”

Rabbis joined Red Cross volunteers to deliver food to flood victims.
Rabbis joined Red Cross volunteers to deliver food to flood victims.

“I was entirely unprepared for the visceral ‘punch in the gut’ feeling,” says Rabbi Sholom Deitsch of Chabad Lubavitch of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, “at witnessing the sheer depth of loss. I am so happy I came even though the High Holidays are around the corner. I can’t think of a more suitable way to get into the spirit than by lifting the spirits of others.”

Rabbi Eli Goodman knows what it’s like to lose everything to a hurricane. His home and synagogue in Long Beach, N.Y., which faces the Atlantic Ocean, sustained heavy damage in the fall of 2012, when Hurricane Sandy ripped up the East Coast.

“There are the first few weeks when the national spotlight is upon you, and help is pouring in from every direction,” recalls Goodman, whose home was left with three feet of sand inside it and not habitable for eight months. “Realistically, it takes two years to recover, and some people take much longer.”

Advice and Assistance

Rabbi Avrohom Litvin of Louisville, Ky., helped victims and volunteers put on tefillin.
Rabbi Avrohom Litvin of Louisville, Ky., helped victims and volunteers put on tefillin.

On Wednesday, Goodman shared practical tips with local residents on matters such as how to obtain federal assistance, and offered personal anecdotes and much-needed empathy to struggling Houstonians.

Like the other members of the delegation, when he visited Jewish people in their homes, he blew shofar (as is customary during Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah), checked for kosher mezuzahs, and helped men put on tefillin.

“We are just happy to be able to add our little bit to all the Americans pitching in to help our neighbors,” says Nate Dalton, who founded 1Mitzvah with Lipsker and underwrote the entire mission. “Our organization is based on the simple idea that one good deed or mitzvah leads to another.”

After a long day of work that included salvaging home goods and personal possessions, and handing out meals, Rabbi Yossel Kranz of Chabad of Virginia in Richmond, reflected that “seeing 50 of my colleagues, some with beards whiter than my own, schlepping furniture and wet sheetrock one day and handing out food and hugs the next, was such a vivid reminder of the power and holiness of simple kindness.”

Rabbi Yossel Kranz of Chabad of Virginia in Richmond helps homeowners clean out debris.
Rabbi Yossel Kranz of Chabad of Virginia in Richmond helps homeowners clean out debris.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, director of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore in Swampscott, Mass., and co-founder of 1Mitzvah, the organization sponsoring the mission, hugs a homeless man in Houston.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, director of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore in Swampscott, Mass., and co-founder of 1Mitzvah, the organization sponsoring the mission, hugs a homeless man in Houston.
The rabbis are briefed before setting out on their missions.
The rabbis are briefed before setting out on their missions.
Rabbis from Florida visit a senior center before heading back home to face Hurricane Irma, which is rapidly approaching their state.
Rabbis from Florida visit a senior center before heading back home to face Hurricane Irma, which is rapidly approaching their state.
Rabbis traveled to Texas from a dozen different states.
Rabbis traveled to Texas from a dozen different states.
Retreiving for burial ruined holy books from the United Orthodox Synagogue, which was severely damaged in the flooding.
Retreiving for burial ruined holy books from the United Orthodox Synagogue, which was severely damaged in the flooding.
Rabbi Yosef Kramer, right, of Little Rock, Ark.
Rabbi Yosef Kramer, right, of Little Rock, Ark.
Rabbis with local volunteers
Rabbis with local volunteers


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Anonymous September 12, 2017

What a kiddush Hahem. The literal outpouring of v'ahavta le reyecha kamocha (love your fellow as yourself) is stunning and awesome beyond our grasp. Reply

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