by Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org
Many Jewish residents in Houston were forced to put Passover preparations on the backburner as they focused on clearing water from their homes this week after record flooding closed schools, shut down the city’s mass-transit system and led to hundreds of emergency rescues throughout the city.
Seven people were killed, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed, and damages were so far estimated at $5 billion as a result of the floodwaters, which came 11 months after another historic storm caused the deaths of eight people, and also severely damaged area homes and property. More than 10 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours earlier this week, overwhelming waterways and streets, and causing severe flooding in the city.
And there may be more to come as Houston remains under a flash flood watch, with some rain is forecast for the next few days.
The damage from Monday’s storm was particularly harsh in the lower-lying Meyerland and Willow Meadows neighborhoods, as the Brays Bayou again overran its banks and sent water flowing into homes, much as it did last May.
At least two synagogues, the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston and Meyerland Minyan, sustained some water damage during Monday’s flood. But it was housing that got the worst of it—yet again.
“People just finally got back in their homes in last couple of weeks, and now their houses are flooded again,” reports Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, program director of Chabad Lubavitch Center Regional Headquarters in Houston, who was in New York when the storm hit, and initially coordinated efforts through emails, texts and WhatsApp messaging. He returned to Houston on Tuesday. “I know some of the people who are flooded, and we’ve reached out to extend our help and let them know they have a place to stay if they need it.”
He adds that Chabad of Houston is currently “assessing the situation and mobilizing our response” to provide any aid that’s needed.
‘All Are Welcome’
As of now, two displaced families will spend Passover in Aishel House, which provides temporary apartments for families who have a loved one undergoing treatment at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.
Because the building is currently under renovation, only a handful of the planned 27 apartments are usable; Aishel House has made those units available to families who need them.
“Our mission is to provide housing for patients and their families in a time of medical crisis,” says Rabbi Eliezer Lazaroff, executive director of Chabad at Texas Medical Center. His wife, Rochel Lazaroff, is program director. The couple also runs Aishel House. “These are extenuating circumstances and a crisis—an emergency situation for these families who, right before Pesach, are in a lurch. We thought it was important to provide them with this kind of assistance.
“By being here at Aishel House, it’s not just that they will have a place to stay, but we will have the seders here, and there’s a shul for holiday services,” he continues. “If they have to rent an apartment somewhere else, they are not going to be in proximity in a shul, and it won’t be the same kind of holiday.”
The Lazaroffs will be offering food as well. Rochel Lazaroff has been preparing and cooking for a Passover crowd that just got a bit bigger.
“I think of Abraham and Sarah as the epitome of hospitality, and when someone in your community is displaced, it’s an absolute honor to be able to help them,” says Rochel Lazaroff. “If we can alleviate any of their hardship, that’s what we are going to do.”
She notes that people have been calling her and volunteering to help as well: “Good will is underestimated; there’s a lot more than is publicized.”
That good will is extended throughout Houston as regional Chabad centers are offering attendance at Passover seders, at no charge, to anyone affected by the storms.
“All are welcome to come and participate in our eight area seders,” says Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff. “Chabad will underwrite the costs of the seder for anyone whose home was flooded.”
Loss of Power and Property
Even those whose homes were not underwater were impacted by the weather.
Rabbi Mendel and Leah Blecher, who run Chabad of The Woodlands, have been dealing with a loss of power, while co-director of The Shul of Bellaire, Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky, posted a public “thank you” on Facebook to the local police officers and concerned neighbors who came to his aid when he was trapped in his car by rising water.
Rabbi Moishe Traxler, director of Chabad Outreach of Houston, recounts that when a community member who was slated to join them at synagogue for morning prayers didn’t show, everyone started getting concerned.
Noting that the young man was new to the area and unprepared for such circumstances, a group of community members went out to look for him. They found him a bit later physically fine, though he had lost his car, cell phone and laptop to the floodwaters.
Nevertheless, all were very much relieved. Says Traxler: “Thank G‑d, he was OK.”
A flash-flood watch remains in effect for the city as more rain is expected in the next day or two. Chabad Houston has established a relief fund here.
Photos courtesy of Peretz Golding