Optimism Amid Tragedy: Jewish Agency Shlichim in Houston

Hurricane Harvey caused immense damage in the Houston area, and the Jewish population was not spared. But Jewish Agency emissaries arrived at the scene to help residents in their time of need.

“Hannah, an elderly woman, welcomed me with a big smile and told me that as long as they are healthy, they are happy; that they want to push through this,” said Hadas Perez, reflecting on her visit to a flood-stricken Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. “So we worked together, cleaning and trying to salvage whatever we could from the homes. Ironically, even while standing in the ruins of a house, Hannah and the people we met made me feel at home.”

Perez, a Jewish Agency/Hillel International Israel Fellow at Santa Cruz Hillel, was part of an initial delegation of shlichim sent from The Jewish Agency for Israel to Houston on September 4, providing crucial and immediate relief for families and institutions that suffered from severe flooding in America’s fourth-largest city.

“It was only when I arrived in Houston that I realized how much harm Hurricane Harvey had caused,” Perez continued. “Entire neighborhoods were flooded, damaging the Jewish Community Center, local synagogues, and schools. People lost their jobs and workplaces, children were left without school buildings, and families lost their homes. It was not easy for me to be there at first, to go inside people’s houses and help them throw away their own clothes, furniture, memories, and treasured sentimental belongings. Yet, amidst the loss, there was still positivity.”

An estimated 71 percent of Houston’s Jewish population of 63,700 live in flood-prone areas, with Hurricane Harvey by far the most devastating flooding event for a Jewish community that has now experienced three major floods since May 2015. 

The Jewish Agency’s assistance in Houston falls in line with the organization’s mission to serve as the main link between the Jewish state and Jewish communities everywhere, and to address the Jewish People’s greatest challenges in every generation. Perez was part of a four-person delegation that was first on the scene and was soon replaced by a further seven shlichim, engaging in a plethora of activities to help residents in their great time of need, both in the Jewish community and beyond. 

“We worked with children at the Harvey day camp, a place for kids who were victims of the hurricane. They were always happy and naive, like only kids could be. I fell in love with them at once and they made me feel like a child again. Being around these amazing kids filled me with hope. On our last day in Houston, we volunteered at the Gulf Meadows Church of Pastor Becky Keenan, and it was heartwarming to meet a community that is a true friend of both the local Jewish community and the state of Israel. We helped dispose of trash in flooded nearby homes, and served warm meals to those who were left with limited access to food.”

Despite the great challenges the Houston community face following the devastation left in the Hurricane’s wake, Perez left feeling a sense of optimism. “I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to practice Tikkun Olam through helping the Jewish and Houston communities. Despite how hard it was to see their suffering, I came back stronger and with a newfound hope, knowing that as long as people help each other no matter what happens, the world will always be a better place.”

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