Why Federations’ Hurricane Relief Efforts Are Critical

See more about the continued urgent aid being provided through Federations' Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
View facts about Hurricane Harvey and the relief effort.

9/7/2017 UPDATE
Jewish Federations allocated $1.6M to meet urgent needs of hurricane victims.

9/5/2017 UPDATE
From Jerry Silverman, President & CEO, Jewish Federations of North America

​While we are keeping an eye on South Florida and Hurricane Irma, our work with Houston continued throughout the weekend. The central area of the sprawling Houston region is in the “mucking out phase” (clearing out furnishings and damaged plaster). None of it can be removed from in front of a house until insurance adjusters and FEMA representatives have come to verify the damage. Other parts of Houston are still under water and inaccessible. For that reason we don’t have much information about the damage to the four congregations and JCC annex located in West Houston because they are still inaccessible.

JFNA’s Emergency Committee Authorized Additional Funds
Yesterday JFNA's Emergency Committee met to allocate an additional $250,000, which brings total allocations to $750,000. These funds cover cash assistance to flood victims (distributed through the local Jewish Family Service), extended day camp for programs that provide safe places for children, grants to rabbis for congregant families in need, grant to the Houston Hebrew Free Loan Association to supplement loan pool for hurricane-specific needs matching dollars pledged by four other large Hebrew Free Loan Associations

Volunteers and Incoming Supplies Face Logistical Challenges
There are many volunteer efforts throughout the Houston area and within the Jewish community. Outside groups are starting to show up but getting volunteers and supplies to where they’re needed is difficult and in some cases impossible; housing and feeding them is also a challenge. With generous support from the Taube Philanthropies (based in San Francisco) we have been fortunate to work with All Hands, a group that focuses on addressing the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters by leveraging volunteers. From here on in they will serve as the point of contact for all Jewish-community volunteer efforts. Requests to volunteer should be directed to 1-800-820-5188.

The JCC is no longer serving as a distribution center so there is no longer a mechanism for managing donations of physical items. In-kind donations should be sent to the United Way of Greater Houston. 

We anticipate the following items will be significant parts of what we are looking to fund and support next:

  • Help relieve communal workers (day school faculty, human service agency personnel, clergy, etc) hit by flooding balance their work and personal crises
  • Repair major communal facilities that have experience major damage including the JCC, Seven Acres nursing home, Beth Yeshurun day school, Torch and three synagogues.
  • Offer mental health support to families that have now been flooded two or three times in less than three years
  • Assist victims who have been displaced and require temporary housing, transportation, legal services, etc

According to the National Weather Service, the effects associated with Hurricane Harvey are “unprecedented” and “unknown and beyond anything experienced.” The news is full of horrific stories of despair and remarkable rescue efforts.

Raising funds is the most important thing we can do right now to help. To Donate >

Jewish Federations’ network of local and international partners enables us to respond quickly and effectively. Here’s what we’re doing:

Assessing the Damage. Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) contacted every Federation and Network community in the vicinity of the storm; Houston has been especially hard hit. While we won’t know the full extent of the damage for days, we know that most local Jewish institutions have flooded and sustained damage. A whopping 71 percent of the Jewish community — including nearly 12,000 elderly members — lives in areas that have seen massive flooding.

Readying to Aid Recovery. Established after Hurricane Hugo, Jewish Federations’ Emergency Committee is ready to convene and disburse funds. Once there is a thorough needs assessment, the Committee will work with Federation partners to aid recovery and ensure urgent needs are met. Funds generally go first to the Jewish community, but we also help non-Jews. Read about the work of the Emergency Committee.

Coordinating Relief Efforts. JFNA coordinates and convenes JVOAD, the network of disaster response organizations that partnered with Jewish Federations to respond after Hurricane Karina (2005) and Superstorm Sandy (2012). In this role, JFNA is focused on maximizing resources and minimizing duplication of effort. For now we are coordinating all donated goods and volunteer offers: please direct them to Steven Woolf and Karen Yoskowitz.

Meeting Urgent Needs Now. Initially, the Emergency Committee will assist with immediate needs such as locating and relocating residents, and ensuring they have the basics: food, blankets, clothes, satellite phones to reach loved ones. Some funding will be allocated to local and national agencies to enable and bolster critical services such as trauma counseling and logistical support to victims.

Planning for Recovery Later. The next steps focus 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 actual rebuilding and renovating comes in the months that follow.

Managing Volunteers. Those who wish to volunteer should wait until conditions and travel are safe. JFNA will coordinate volunteer efforts with organizations such as NECHAMA - Jewish Response to Disaster and IsraAID.

Providing updates and regular communication. JFNA has initiated regular meetings of personnel involved in response activities. We will send regular communications to Federations highlighting the situation on the ground and response efforts. 


Our Federation staff and other Jewish professionals are working tirelessly to respond to community needs while managing flood damage in workplaces and at home. The devastation is unimaginable, and Federation and Jewish Family Service (JFS) facilities, as well as at least one large Orthodox synagogue, are flooded.

People are committed to rebuilding and staying in Houston. Local volunteers are organizing and helping each other.

The local JCC will open tomorrow to serve as the central address for aid distribution. We hope to be able to start passing out supplies to help residents clean their homes and prepare to restore water-damaged items. JFS case workers will be on location to assist individuals and households in need, and JFS is working with the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies to set up a counseling hotline, among other things.

Local rabbis are working together, planning dinners and co-utilizing synagogue space so that congregations with damaged buildings can hold services in safe locations.


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