May 28, 2020 – One of the lessons the Houston Jewish community learned during and after Hurricane Harvey was the need to create a mechanism for a coordinated, community-wide rapid response to future floods. In December 2019, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston created The Jewish Response & Action Network.
“Harvey taught us the cost of not having a link to government affairs. We didn’t have a seat at the table, even though disproportionally the Jewish community was affected. That’s why I was hired. I’ve built some wonderful connections in the county and the city governments. Having those relationships in advance is an added value.
“Since February, JRAN has become a one-stop source of breaking information on everything from COVID 19-related resources from the Centers for Disease Control to local school and synagogue closures. We send out daily information updates about what’s accurate and relevant to the Houston Jewish community, information organizations can use to plan their daily operations. My goal is to make sure everyone is well-informed. After Hurricane Harvey, we learned self-care and positivity are very important,” said Fisherman.
In addition to working with city and county officials and local law enforcement, Fisherman continuously monitors health-policy decisions at the city, state and national levels.
Recently, JRAN produced a draft of Organizational Guidelines for Reopening document that organizations can use as a template.
Working with Dr. Ed Septimus, an infectious disease physician for Memorial Hermann, Fisherman combined Dr. Septimus’ plans with one from the Jewish Federations of North America, to create a sharable template for all of Houston’s Jewish organizations. This plan was presented at a JRAN meeting in March.
“We didn’t want to force anyone to do things one way,” said Fisherman. “We wanted to give our partners and community organizations all the information so they could make the best choice for their organization. Every organization has different needs, and we didn’t feel it was our place to dictate what organizations should do.”
The guideline draft obviously is Jewish. In the draft’s third paragraph, the document notes that resources and best practices are joined by a set of Jewish values including:
• Pikuah Nefesh – the safeguarding of life as a bedrock of Jewish law
• She’at Hadehak – the need to be flexible and make adjustments in times of crisis and uncertainty
• Chesed – the practice of love and kindness as we make decisions
Although the pandemic continues to be at the center of the community’s attention, the hurricane season officially begins on June 1. JRAN’s main charge is to build a community playbook for disaster response.
“We are moving forward with hurricane preparedness,” said Fisherman. “Our upcoming JRAN Conversation Starter will be on hurricane preparedness, and we will put resources on our website.”
Plans include building a community playbook for disaster response, ensuring there is a system that considers the unique needs of the Jewish community, and advocating for funds and projects that make the community safer and more resilient.
The plan is to build an emergency-response network that includes financial support, volunteer management, resource sharing, training, self-care and timely information on credible threats to the Jewish community.
Fisherman promises JRAN will be an inclusive network, recognizing that each organization brings a unique set of skills and resources to the table.
“The pandemic is such an evolving day-to-day dynamic that we’re simply doing the best we can to stay on top of things. At the same time, we remember hurricane season is approaching. We will present a webinar on that next week. That will be followed by a security update. You can’t neglect security in the rush to reopen.
“The Federation is leading the effort to be more proactive and providing concrete information,” said Fisherman. “We appreciate all the support we receive from the whole community.”