The Hebrew month of Elul marks a period of deep introspection leading up to the High Holidays known as cheshbon hanefesh, an “accounting of one’s soul” and actions during the previous year. It is not meant to be merely an intellectual exercise; positive, corrective action is required in order to properly prepare ourselves to enter the New Year. During this period, the shofar is sounded each day during morning prayers. It is a literal wake-up call — and call to action — reminding us that we are a people of deeds and not merely of words.
We reflect on the wisdom of this process every day as the Federation Movement strives to best serve our community, and especially this week as we come together to address a major crisis.
The people of Houston and the vicinity are suffering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, and the collective Jewish community has snapped into action — one of our great strengths as a communal system.
The Jewish Federations’ Emergency Committee was established in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. From California wildfires to Florida hurricanes to Texas flooding, the Committee has immediately reached out to local Federations when emergencies strike to offer continental assistance. Read more about the work of our Emergency Committee.
We recognize the heroic efforts of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, which has gone above and beyond the extreme circumstances to remain focused on aiding their community.
When conditions allow, we will conduct a thorough needs assessment in Houston and convene the Emergency Committee. Then we will assist with immediate needs such as locating and relocating residents, and ensuring they have the basics: food, blankets, clothes, satellite phones to reach their loved ones. The next step focuses on homes: removing water, mud and furniture; ripping out drywall; and pulling out floorboards, a process that, for just one home, means several days of work for 10 volunteers from partner groups like NECHAMA - Jewish Response to Disaster. The hard work of rebuilding and renovating will come in the months that follow.
This week we convened JVOAD, the network of disaster-response organizations that helped coordinate the overall Jewish response to Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Superstorm Sandy (2012). Our focus will be on maximizing resources and minimizing duplication of effort.
The time for action is now and we strongly urge you to give generously through your local Federation, where 100 percent of your donation goes to those in need.
Our hearts go out to families who have lost loved ones, whose homes have been destroyed, whose lives are in upheaval. Our ability to help them is determined by the strength of our unified efforts — by how we come together as one Jewish People, regardless of our differences, in times of calm and in times of crisis, to work for the greater good of all.
This critical work requires that we join in a collective cheshbon hanefesh — a reflection on what kind of a community we have been and wish to be. This is a true call to action, indeed.
Richard Sandler is chair of the Board of Trustees and Jerry Silverman is president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America