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August 30, 2017 2:35 pm

Battered by Harvey, Houston’s Jewish Community Braces for Punishing Clean-Up in Aftermath

avatar by Shiryn Solny

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Texas National Guardsmen mount a rescue operation in Houston. Photo: US Department of Defense.

Houston’s Jewish community has a strong tradition of voluntary work for those in need — but it wasn’t until Hurricane Harvey ripped into the city four days ago that those who usually volunteer found themselves in the vulnerable position of asking for help.

“I was speaking to one woman yesterday, and she started crying,” Rabbi Lazer Lazeroff, who serves in Houston with Chabad, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “She said, ‘Rabbi, you know that I usually come to you as a volunteer to help with your relief efforts, and I have to ask for help now.’ She’s got a foot and a half of water in her own house.”

Lazeroff said that Houston’s southwest side, “where the Jewish community is, got affected terribly.”

Houston’s ten Chabad institutions are coordinating their efforts, Lazeroff noted. “The initial efforts was identifying where people are, so we could get to them,” he said. “We also had to find out if people needed to get pulled out of their homes. Some people are in their homes in a foot or two of water, but they can’t walk outside because the streets are flooded.”

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Lazeroff added that “the next step is going to be the cleanup, because once you get flood water in people’s homes, its brackish water, dirty water, sometimes sewer water. We’re organizing a bunch of crews with a team leader with specific instructions on how to clean a house.”

Of particular concern are the large numbers of elderly people in the impacted area. A spokesperson for the Houston Jewish Federation told The Algemeiner that approximately 12,000 elderly Jews are estimated to be living there, and that efforts to assist them are underway.

Other Jewish organizations have also entered the relief effort. Amaliah, a humanitarian group that has worked with Syrian refugees in Israel, said that it was “now on the ground working with the Texas National Guard to provide gasoline to power generators in hospitals and private homes, while distributing aid such as food, diapers and bottled water to makeshift shelters around the city.”

The rescue team includes Syrian and Israeli volunteers who met in the Israeli hospitals where Syrian refugees have received medical treatment. “After so many years of working together to help the Syrian people, a bridge was built between Israelis and Syrians, and together we are going to Houston to help our fellow Americans,” the group’s founder, Moti Kahana, said.

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