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June 2, 2015 1:56 pm

Houston Synagogue Reeling From ‘Over $1 Million’ in Flooding Damages

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There was "over $1 million" in damages from recent Houston flooding at the United Orthodox Synagogues in Willow Meadows, said the synagogue's president. Photo: Courtesy

The United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston is still reeling from last week’s devastating floods in the Houston area, with “over $1 million in damages,” the Algemeiner has learned.

The synagogue, which houses a community of more than 350 families, suffered extensive damage to its main sanctuary, which was refurbished following the last Houston floods in 2001, synagogue President Max Reichenthal told the Algemeiner on Tuesday.

About half of the families in the community live within walking distance of the synagogue, in Houston’s southwestern Willow Meadows area. Reichenthal estimated that about 50% of the homes damaged in the area belonged to Jewish families, who chose the location for proximity to the synagogue.

He said the flooding wrecked about 30,000-35,000 square feet in the United Orthodox Synagogues’ complex, with “upwards of a million dollars” in damages, especially within the sanctuary. He said extensive damage was caused to the community’s library of prayer books and Bibles.

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“We had a perfect storm, that’s what happened,” said Reichenthal. “It’s a formula, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Though he said last week’s damage “appears to be the worst” in the synagogue’s history, it was not the first time the community has been met with such devastation.

“The first time wasn’t quite as bad,” said Reichenthal. “The second time in [Tropical Storm] Allison in 2001 was very bad. We had just redone, actually, the synagogue, and added a wing that was higher up.”

Though the community must cope with sporadic flooding, it is not prepared to move, especially as so many families have chosen to reside nearby, said Reichenthal.

The synagogue, which last Tuesday night “held a minyan once the waters went down,” also houses the Goldberg Montessori School. The congregation, presided over by Rabbi Barry Gelman, is nearly 50 years old.

Reichenthal said one positive aspect of the flooding was its ability to galvanize the “unification of the Jewish community in Houston and really all over.”

“We’ve had outpouring from as far as Sacramento to New Jersey. We’ve had kids coming in to help repair and to help pull things out of homes. Our high school kids are working every day,” he said.

“The key is coming together to try to do as much as they can before the rebuilding. We’ll rebuild and we’ll be stronger and we’re hoping to get support from outside the community as well,” he said, adding his thanks to the Houston chapters of Kollel, Young Israel and Chabad for supplying meals and manpower.

At least 31 people were killed as a result of flooding in Texas and Oklahoma when a slow-moving storm covered a wide area between the two states, dumping incredible precipitation. In Houston alone, firefighters performed some 500 rescue operations. Initial estimates say the flooding in Houston caused about $45 million in damages.

“When bad things happen, Jewish people come together. People that never come together, come together. Is that a good thing? It’s good and bad,” said Reichethnal.

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