Jewish Herald Voice
Thousands of religious books and ritual items, destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, have been piled up behind United Orthodox Synagogues, awaiting burial in accordance with Jewish law."There's a First Amendment issue with the government telling people you can't go to this synagogue," Goldstein said. "There's not a comparable synagogue in this city. There are different Orthodox synagogues, but UOS is unique." Sen. Cruz told UOS leaders that he will reach out to senior officials with FEMA to "start a conversation" regarding FEMA's buyout intentions. "We're happy to help any way we can," said Sen. Cruz, acknowledging the need expressed by UOS members and Willow Meadows residents to stay in the neighborhood. He added, "The same spirit of unity and resolve of purpose that got us through Harvey will get us through rebuilding." According to reports, Harris County Flood Control is actively pursuing the necessary federal funding to proceed with Harvey-related home buyouts. FEMA, in turn, would condemn those properties, it's believed, and convert the land to retention areas. UOS members said such a plan would be a "doomsday scenario" for Houston's Jewish community - nearly 70 percent of whom live near Brays Bayou in Southwest Houston. "If FEMA is going to give X amount of dollars to a family to buy them out, why not instead give that money to the family, so they can raise their house, which would solve the problem and save this community, which has been here for 100 years," Rabbi Gelman said. As for UOS, itself, synagogue leaders said their intention is to build a new building on the existing property that would be better situated to avoid flood damage. "We don't know about structural damage [from Harvey], but the truth is, we don't intend to find out," Rabbi Gelman told Sen. Cruz. "The real push, now, is to build a new building on our property ... so the synagogue doesn't flood. "G-d forbid, if the neighborhood floods again, the [new] synagogue will be in a position to help people, instead of needing help, itself," the rabbi said. In the meantime, UOS members and volunteers, including students from Yeshiva University, have been making repairs to UOS' social hall in time for Rosh Hashanah, which begins Wednesday evening, Sept. 20. Even though UOS' Freedman Hall was built 4½ feet higher than the synagogue's original building, it still took in more than a foot of floodwater during Harvey. "Freedman Hall has been remediated, cleaned and disinfected, and sheetrock has been torn out and replaced," Rabbi Gelman reported on Sept. 15. "We're going to be a one-room schoolhouse, now, for a long time." After visiting UOS, Sen. Cruz met with Willow Meadows residents in their flood-damaged homes, some of which took in as much as 7 feet of water after Harvey caused Brays Bayou to crest on Sunday morning, Aug. 27. Residents, whose homes now have flooded three times in three years, told Sen. Cruz that the latest ordeal has been particularly hard on their children. They also reported that there is a huge discrepancy among flood insurance payouts given to comparable houses and losses. "It appears totally arbitrary and dependent upon the sensibility of an individual adjuster," Goldstein told the JHV. Goldstein, who works with elected officials on disaster-recovery projects, said government can play a beneficial role by standardizing the process. She also expressed the need for better oversight regarding mortgage forbearance. "Fannie Mae issued guidelines, but it appears that it's still up to the servicer on whether or not homeowners will be hit with a balloon payment after three months of forbearance," Goldstein said. "People will be hit with a balloon payment on top of having to pay rent for their temporary living situations, which, in some cases, is more than their mortgage payments." Many Harvey-impacted community members, who live in Willow Meadows and the Meyerland area, told the JHV that they want to rebuild and stay together as a community, yet fear the possibility of that option being taken away, should FEMA enforce a buyout program for their area. "What is the long-term future of this community, which has medical professionals and energy professionals and business people and lawyers, school teachers, plumbers and electricians?" Rabbi Gelman said. "It's diverse, religiously. It's diverse economically. That's a big question mark that looms large. "It's really important for us to stick together and try to help each other through this," Rabbi Gelman said.
Partitions were installed in Beth Israel's social hall to accommodate 10 BYDS early childhood classes that were displaced by Hurricane Harvey."It's the same school, only in a different place," Benjamin told the JHV as he decorated a paper crown in celebration of his recent fifth birthday. "We even have our calendar on the wall and a calendar helper gets to do it every day," he said. While the large social hall has less natural lighting than BYDS enjoys back home, teachers said the children had no problem adjusting. With so many classes sharing space, however, the noise level can present a challenge, teachers noted. There's also a logistical challenge for the school's hosts. Every Friday, Beth Israel's social hall has to be cleared for use by the congregation, then set back up again on Sunday for the next school week. "Everything in every classroom space is numbered, and we have pictures of how everything should look, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue getting it all set back up again," Suchart said. "The children and teachers are just happy to be back," she added. BYDS teachers and parents, alike, expressed gratitude to Congregation Beth Israel, The Shlenker School and The Emery/Weiner School for opening their campuses to BYDS and making their guests feel welcome, they told the JHV. Besides BYDS, Shlenker also is hosting classes from the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC's Bertha Alyce Early Childhood Center, whose building also suffered flood damage from Hurricane Harvey.
Personal property at Seven Acres and The Medallion that escaped flood damage during Hurricane Harvey is being securely stored for residents during the rebuilding process."The staff are so incredible - they got us through the worst, and they're getting us through the recovery," Premazon told the JHV on Thursday, Sept. 7. "Sleeping arrangements during those first few days were challenging, but the food has been good and everything that staff have been able to control, they've done so, and have done it well." Premazon said she slept in a chair in one of The Medallion's communal sitting areas that first night after being evacuated upstairs. The next three nights, she slept in a recliner in the room of an upstairs resident. Thereafter, she has spent nights with her daughter in Bellaire, and spends days back at The Medallion, she noted. Meanwhile, her mother is now sleeping at the home of Premazon's sister. The arrangements have the whole family feeling stressed, Premazon said. Yolande Dauber, 98, lives on the second floor at The Medallion and has opened her home to downstairs neighbors displaced by Harvey. "I had a lady sleep in my chair for a few nights, and there's another lady who is still using my bathroom to take showers and baths," Dauber told the JHV on Sept. 7. "This experience has brought residents closer together. They are more interested in each other," she said. Dauber, who moved to The Medallion five years ago from Florida, said she looked out of her second-story window during the flood and saw "a sea of water." The nonagenarian praised Seven Acres and Medallion staff for their response to Hurricane Harvey. "They are very well organized, here, taking very good care of people from downstairs," she said. "Staff were here all night when we flooded and there was no person who was neglected for one minute." She added, "The staff, here, have proven themselves before, so I felt very confident that we'd be OK this time, too." JHV: MICHAEL C. DUKE
Seven Acres' "dream team" staff members Isabel Reyes and Ahmed Taylor helped evacuate residents to higher ground during Hurricane Harvey.'Dream team' Staff who stayed all night to care for residents volunteered to do so, they told the JHV. Seven Acres calls that group of 50 staff members its "dream team." Team members were given specific responsibilities in the event of an emergency, and also have been cross-trained to assist other members of the team, they noted. Dream team member, Phyllis Tacquard, is director of dining for Seven Acres and The Medallion. "Our immediate challenge during Harvey was keeping everybody fed, dealing with a loss of electricity in certain parts of the building until the back-up generator kicked in, plus the kitchen being flooded," Tacquard told the JHV. "Breakfast that morning wasn't too bad, we could deal with that," she said. "Lunch and dinner that first day after the flood was sandwiches, because we couldn't cook." Tacquard said she is proud of her crew of 14 dining staff who pulled together to take care of residents' nutritional and emotional needs. "Teamwork is what got us through this," she said. "Often times, I didn't even have to ask someone to do something, even if it was outside their normal job. "They just did it," Tacquard said. It was Seven Acres CEO Malcolm Slatko who made the call to shelter in place during Hurricane Harvey. "We could have got 40 buses and attempted to get everybody to Austin, San Antonio or Dallas, but then we'd run the risk of having a death rate," Slatko told the JHV. "I made the decision to stay, and I'd do it again, because we have the staff and the training to save lives and take care of everyone here." Procedural training Isabel Reyes and Ahmed Taylor are dream team members who have worked together at Seven Acres for more than 30 years. Initially, staff tried to stop the flooding on the ground floor with squeegees, mops, towels and linens, they noted. With water entering from every egress, however, 45 minutes later staff had to enact the next step in their procedural training and began to evacuate residents to the second floor. Porters and other staff used bed sheets as stretchers to carry residents with limited mobility up the stairs. The strategy worked and nobody was injured during the evacuation. "We have good training to deal with emergencies," said Taylor, who went room to room during the evacuation and helped carry people upstairs. "The priority is always the safety of our residents," he said. A total of 175 residents at Seven Acres and The Medallion were moved to higher ground. Between the two facilities, 100 units suffered flood damage. JHV: MICHAEL C. DUKE
Seven Acres board president Judy Yambra helped box up residents' property and tear out flood-damaged carpet in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.Tear-out underway After Harvey's floodwaters receded, 150 contractors have been working on site to repair damages, and to assist staff, volunteers and Seven Acres board members with packing up residents' undamaged property and moving it to storage. "We're getting close to completing half of the tear-out at both facilities," Slatko told the JHV on Sept. 7. "The story, here, is that repairs and recovery continue at Seven Acres." Indeed, most of the rooms that flooded already had been stripped bare, down to the studs, with only bathroom porcelain still to be hauled away. Heading into Harvey, Slatko said Seven Acres and The Medallion already were making preparations. Generators and back-up generators were in place. A fuel room was stocked. Administration and computers were centralized. Shelter was provided to family members - and pets - of staff who volunteered for the dream team. "One of the most important lessons we've learned from dealing with emergencies is that if you take care of your employees, they'll take care of the residents," Slatko said. "Every step we take points back to our mission of taking care of the residents." Staff familiarity Gabrielle Langley is a clinical social worker at Seven Acres who, like other dream team members, was on site all night during the flood. In the aftermath of Harvey, Langley said her team has worked hard to maintain staff familiarity among residents who were displaced. JHV: MICHAEL C. DUKE
Work crews had completed nearly half of the necessary tear-out in flood-impacted units at Seven Acres and The Medallion by Sept. 7."We've tried as best as we can to keep staff with residents they worked with before the flood, because those staff members know how to best serve those residents and meet their individualized needs," Langley told the JHV. Being assisted by staff they know has helped displaced residents, even if their current surroundings, upstairs, are less familiar, they told the JHV. "I feel very lucky, to tell you the truth," Premazon said. "When I see what happened over by UOS and in large parts of Meyerland - I have friends over there who have now lost everything for the second or even third time to flooding - I feel quite fortunate. "It doesn't do a bit of good to complain - it's not going to change anything," she said. "We'll survive." Down the hall, 98-year-old Dauber was taking Harvey and its aftermath in stride. "We're not so young, here," she said. "We've already lived through a lot of things. "We've learned how to bend without breaking," Dauber said.
Carly Ostrin and other BYDS fourth-graders said lessons have gone unchanged, despite having to move locations, due to Hurricane Harvey flood-damage at their school."BYDS is close to where we live, but Emery is even closer," she said. Besides their school, some 25 percent of BYDS students suffered flood damage at their homes, according to parents, who attended a town hall meeting at Emery with BYDS leaders on Thursday night, Sept. 7. Children at BYDS who didn't flood said they are comforting their friends who did. Teachers and staff - half-a-dozen of whom also flooded - have been working hard to keep up morale, they noted. EWS, in turn, has done its best to make the transition as smooth as possible, according to teachers. "Emery has prepared a very soft landing for us," said Jodi Chait, a third-grade teacher at BYDS. "Our kids have adjusted to the change so well. They seem happy and many already have said they love being here." Chait, herself, attended BYDS as a kid and graduated from I. Weiner Middle School. "It's wonderful being back here and seeing how well Emery is being run," said the 28-year-old. "Given how accommodating everyone here has been, it makes me proud to be a former student who went here. "My teachers, here, helped me become the teacher I am today," Chait added. EWS created space for its guests by combining a few of its own classrooms and offices. EWS students, meanwhile, said they've gone out of their way to welcome their guests. Middle schoolers, in particular, who are closer in age to BYDS students, told the JHV that they are looking after the younger kids. "It's really nice to see all these elementary school kids around here - it brings back so many good memories of when we were that age," said EWS eighth-grader, Maddie Ross. Dovid Adler, another EWS eighth-grader, added: "We were once them, so we kind of know how they feel. "They look up to us like we're awesome, but we tell them: 'You kids are the awesome ones, because you're still coming to school and having a good time, despite everything you've gone through,' " Adler told the JHV. While BYDS' first through fifth grades resumed classes on Tuesday, Sept. 5, school leaders told parents it will be another week or so until BYDS' pre-school program - CDO through kindergarten - reopens at Shlenker/Beth Israel. Besides opening its doors to BYDS, Shlenker also will be hosting some 70 displaced students from the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC's Bertha Alyce Center over the next month until Bertha Alyce can be moved to the J's Merfish Teen Center, which also suffered flood damage and is being repaired. More than 100 parents attended BYDS' town hall on Sept. 7. During that meeting, school leaders thanked EWS, Beth Israel and Shlenker for their hospitality. BYDS leaders also explained the process that the school went through to locate temporary accommodations, and gave ample time to answer questions from families, mostly pertaining to the school's early childhood and kindergarten programs. Earlier that day, BYDS sent an email to parents, notifying them of plans to temporarily hold classes at other day schools, while still remaining "self-contained." Season Paquette is co-chair of BYDS' parent-teacher organization and has a kindergartener and a first grader at the school. PTO helped organize volunteers to pack up and clean out BYDS's flood-damaged classrooms to aid in the transition to temporary quarters. The group also is helping with school communications, as school leaders have applied for financial assistance from the Jewish Federation to expedite the rebuilding process. "I'm happy with the plan going forward," Paquette told the JHV at the town hall. "The school has done it's best to deal with an unprecedented situation like this that nobody could have planned for." Paquette said her kids have been "flexible" in coping with challenges in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. "Avi, my first-grader, is thrilled to be at Emery - he wants to go to Emery when he's older. He thinks it's fabulous," Paquette said. "And Ari, my kindergartener, is fine with being at Shlenker, too. He has friends there. Even though he won't have classes with his Shlenker friends, he still thinks it's neat. "Both kids said, 'It's a mitzvah they're letting us be in their space,' " Paquette told the JHV. "They were extremely upset that their school flooded, so it's really nice that they have this wider community of support." Stewart Rosenthal, BYDS' board chair, praised teachers, administrators and parents during the town hall for pulling together as the school focuses on recovery. Rosenthal assured BYDS families that the school's top priority continues to be the "safety, welfare and education" of its students. BYDS leaders said that the school is fortunate to be able to reopen this year, when many school programs in the Houston area will not be able to do so.
Mordechai Shapiro involved Houstonians in his performance during a Harvey-relief concert at Beren Academy."We're dancing as hard as we've worked - and we've been working really hard," said one of the volunteers, who only gave his first name, Yaakov, as he and others swelled across the dance floor to Shapiro's music. The Nachum Segal Network brought Shapiro from New York for the singer's debut Houston performance. Speaking to the JHV before taking the stage, Shapiro said he was amazing by the outpouring of support in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. "In New York, we can only watch the news and follow social media to see what's going on here, but there's no way to feel the pain of what our fellow Jews in Houston are going through without being here to see it for yourself," Shapiro said. "Now that I'm here, the pain is obvious - I'm seeing kids the same age as mine who come from regular, successful families, but right now have nowhere else to go to dinner," he told the JHV as volunteers served another 1,000 donated kosher meals from Beren that day. "Even those who weren't directly impacted by Harvey are obviously here to support those who were," Shapiro said. "It's amazing to see the unity in Houston." JHV: MICHAEL C. DUKE
Houstonians were treated to an emotional release during a Mordechai Shapiro concert after two weeks of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.Nachum Segal came down to Houston as part of his Jewish Unity Initiative, which presents special broadcasts and events from Jewish communities around the world. The popular web-radio host told Houstonians that his goal in broadcasting from Houston is two-fold: "to offer moral support" to families impacted by Harvey, and to inform "the world that we need financial support in Houston to help the Jewish community." Shapiro told the JHV that he is a music teacher at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, which began its new fall semester earlier this week. "Today was our second day of school," the singer said. "I told them I have to take off today and they sent me with blessings. "As a teacher, I want my students to know - to see - that this is what we do for each other as a Jewish community," he said. JHV: MICHAEL C. DUKE
Volunteers enjoyed double-decker dancing during a Harvey-relief concert by Mordechai Shapiro at Beren Academy.
Rick Recht gave a private pep talk to a group of campers and staff before the concert who later joined the Jewish rock star on stage.Riley said she and her younger siblings, who've been at the GFC-ERJCC Hurricane Harvey camp all week, have "sort of" talked about their flood experiences among each other. "When we have talked about it, we try to calm each other down, because my little brother starts crying," Riley told the JHV. "I try to help him." Ronnie Most brought his 3-year-old son, Rory, to the "Voices of Hope" concert. The Mosts thought they had escaped flood damage and even opened their doors to other families who were forced to evacuate houses in the Meyerland-area. Shortly after floodwaters receded, however, wood flooring in the Mosts' house began to buckle, apparently caused by water coming up through the foundation. "We've gone from helper to someone who now needs help," Most said. As Most and his young son entered Emanu El's sanctuary for the Rick Recht concert, Rory spotted friends and asked to sit with them. "Being here helps get my kid get back to some sort of normalcy, being with his friends," Most said. "Seeing the kids happy and being with their friends is really needed right now." At the start of the concert, GFC's Summer Camp director, Stefani Rozen, thanked the more than 350 volunteers who have enabled parents to focus on the start of recovery efforts by offering families a supportive environment for their children during the day. "The volunteers are really the ones who made this possible, spending time with our campers, keeping everyone safe and secure and making sure everyone is having a great time," Rozen said. Rabbi Steve Gross from Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism and Rabbi Adrienne Scott from Congregation Beth Israel offered words of encouragement during an extended version of Recht's song, "The Hope." "Open your eyes, open your hearts and sense the love that's all around you," Rabbi Gross said as audience members wrapped arms around each other. "Hope is all around us." Rabbi Scott added, "Our tradition teaches us that we are each responsible for one another. And, out of this great tragedy and destruction and devastation, perhaps there has been no better time to see this principle - not only in place for our community, our Jewish community, but in the entire community of Houston, and well beyond this city. "We feel for the first time, perhaps, that [Houston] is really like a small village, and that each one of us has our part in healing the brokenness around us, mending our souls and bringing us back together," she said. Riana Sherman, Program director at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, is assisting with the Hurricane Harvey day camp. Over the weekend, Sherman reached out to Recht and the musician responded immediately, agreeing to perform in Houston some 48 hours later. Sherman's husband, Greg, played percussion during the concert, while GFC's executive director, Loui Dobin, and others, offered rhythm guitar and supporting vocals. Recht, one of the top-touring musicians in Jewish music, told Houstonians that he was inspired by their resolve in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. "One thing that has really stood out," Recht said, "is the strength in community." He praised flood-impacted families who have shown "fortitude" and have focused on the "blessings" that Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters failed to way away.
Scout Brooks and her parents Daniel and Monica Brooks decided to go ahead with Scout's Bat Mitzvah celebration this weekend in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.Besides numerous cancellations, the Brooks also had to line up emergency replacements for catering and photography earlier this week, because those vendors were impacted by the storm. "We have lots of food coming and if there's extra, we can donate that to hurricane-recovery efforts," said Scout's mother, Monica. She added, "Those who couldn't make it are happy to know that we are all safe and we still have reasons to celebrate." At Brith Shalom, the Bat Mitzvah parents said the community needs a "happy moment" right now. "We want our daughter's Bat Mitzvah to bring a lot of happiness - not just to our family and friends, but to the entire community," Jeffrey said. Laurie, Rachel's mother, added: "We emailed our guests to tell them what was happening and almost everybody's response was that they are so glad we're still doing this. "It's a mitzvah on top of a mitzvah," Laurie told the JHV. "What Brith Shalom is doing for us is a mitzvah, especially." Read more stories from the JHV on Hurricane Harvey