These past few weeks have been devastating for both Jews and non-Jews alike living in areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but it’s also a time that’s bringing people together, and bringing out the best in everyone. In Judaism, there is a concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Tikkun olam can be achieved through various means, such as chesed (loving-kindness,) and giving back to your community. Hurricane Harvey was a terrible tragedy, but it is on the same side of the coin as providing an opportunity for community leaders to step up and provide assistance to those who need it most.
Houstonian Jews were greatly affected by the storm. Over 70% of the 63,700 Jews living in Houston experienced flooding, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. It was therefore a godsend when the cabinet approved a $1 million aid package to help repair Jewish schools, synagogues, and the JCC this past Sunday. Additionally, IsraAID has played a pivotal role in rebuilding Houston. IsraelAID has been providing assistance where it’s needed most for over fifteen years. They have sent five volunteers to begin with damage control in less than a week, and are currently sending out even more volunteers for more hands, and also to execute stress-relieving and morale-boosting events. This is the kind of chesed that I think is an inspiration.
Harvey is one of the costliest natural disasters that the US has ever seen, with cost estimates ranging from $50 billion to over $100 billion. But with Jewish communities around the world coming together to volunteer manpower, money, and time, things are becoming a little more manageable. The Orthodox Union has raised over $500,000 to donate to Harvey’s aftermath, and the Jewish Federations of North America has donated in the six figures. Other organizations raising money include the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union for Reform Judaism. IsraeAID itself is aiming to raise $114,000.
Not only are cleanup efforts bringing together Jews with other Jews, but the efforts are also unifying Jews with people who aren’t Jewish. Chabad served about 300 hot meals to everyone in the community, from all backgrounds. They also had a list of items that could be donated to seven Seasons supermarkets in Houston to provide to Houstonians. Currently, the link to donate reads: “Thank you for your overwhelming generosity and support. Trucks are full and we will be unable to accept any further donations at this time. Best wishes for a K’siva V’chasima Tova [inscribed for a good year,] Your Seasons Family.” If this message doesn’t speak to the remarkable way that tikkun olam has been internalized, I don’t know what does. Through the chesed that has been demonstrated to help people in their times of need, I am sure that those helping out will merit to be K’siva V’chasima Tova indeed.