(February 19, 2021) – We have written many times about the extraordinary ability of our Federations to respond to crises of all kinds. Unfortunately, we write today with yet another example.
Still reeling from the impact of a global health pandemic, Texas was dealt a terrible blow with this week’s winter storm. Press reports confirm that freezing temperatures and a lack of power have wreaked havoc across the state.
Our Federations have responded with swift action.
Mariam Shpeen Feist, President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, said “we were built for times like this,” and we could not agree more.
The toll of this disaster is still taking shape. According to press reports, nearly 500,000 homes and businesses remain without power, with large swaths of the state’s grid down. Hospitals are running out of water. Some 7 million residents are under a boil-water advisory. At least 30 deaths linked to the storm have been reported. Residents are burning furniture to stay warm.
JFNA has been in close touch with all of the Texas Federations – Dallas, Shalom Austin, the Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso, the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, as well as the smaller Network communities in Brownsville, Bryan/College Station, Corpus Christi, Galveston, McAllen, Tyler and Waco. Where there is need, they have supplied warm blankets, bottled water and plumbing assistance.
Home to around 130,000 Jews, the state of Texas and its Jewish population have experienced no shortage of recent crises. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey decimated the Houston area, flooding thousands of Jewish homes and causing millions of dollars in catastrophic damage to several synagogues and other Jewish institutions. In 2019, a Category 3 tornado struck Dallas, bringing more property damage to Jewish communities. And, of course, they have suffered from the pandemic, as have all of our Jewish communities.
Federations and their lay leaders from across the system have stepped up to help their colleagues in Texas. Yesterday, within a few hours, the Large Intermediate Federations all pulled together to contribute funds to their peers in Dallas and Houston – enough to support 1,000 Shabbat packages, along with Kosher hot meals at multiple locations. JFNA was proud to contribute to their effort, which highlights the beauty and strength of our collective.
In response to this effort, Houston Federation President & CEO Kari Dunn Saratovsky commented that “there’s very little that is warm in Texas right now, but I can tell you that my heart is very warm, thanks to all of you! You are an incredible group of colleagues and friends.”
In addition to this generous outpouring of support, JFNA’s Emergency Committee, a volunteer body that allocates emergency funds contributed by the community to address disaster relief, opened a national mailbox to ensure that additional contributions flow to communities throughout Texas and elsewhere hit by the freezing weather, allowing them to get through the immediate emergency and rebuild from this disaster. We invite you to join us in supporting the relief efforts of our Texas Federations, and to share this information with others in your community who might be inclined to contribute to this cause. Please contact Stephan Kline if you have questions or ways to help.
We will continue to evaluate and address the situation. In the meantime, we send our love and best wishes to all the communities affected by the storm.
Mark Wilf is Chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees and Gail Norry is Chair of JFNA’s Emergency Committee.