Report From Houston
I asked Rabbi Yehoshua Wender, mara d’asra of Young Israel of Houston, for a status report for his community. He offered the remarks he sent out to his own shul; they capture what his mispallelim are living with. His words are reproduced below.
The situation elsewhere in Houston – including different Orthodox neighborhoods (Meyerland and Willow Meadows, as opposed to Fondren, where Young Israel is – is more tragic and more desperate, with synagogue and homes under six to eight feet of water – before the latest rains. Readers who wish to respond like we always respond to need are urged to contribute through the special funds set up by the Orthodox Union and by Agudah (online at agudathisrael.org – with “Disaster Relief Fund” typed into in the “comments” box)
According to the weather reports, the storm will be winding down over the next few days.
As we begin to exhale, and exit crisis mode, I would like share a few short thoughts with you.
Many members of the Jewish communities are suffering. They are out of their homes and for many of them this is not the first time. For families to go through this trauma again and again is so sad. May Hashem give them the ability to persevere and to heal during the days and weeks that follow. In addition. in order that we actively participate in helping these families, please sign up on the volunteer sheets that went out yesterday on my email and on the Fondren Jewish site. I would like to thank all those who have already started to organize this effort, even as the rain was still pounding on our homes.
I can’t believe the amazing chesed of Jewish people from all over the world. My day is being spent on returning phone calls and emails from people who want to help. People who don’t know anyone who lives here. People who are offering their homes, who live 1,000 miles away. People who have massive credit card debts, but need to help when they see such suffering. Rabbonim who are dedicating their Divrei Torah this Shabbos to help out the Jews of Houston. People who are determined to do other people’s dirty laundry 🙂 Honestly, I am inspired by every single email and phone call.
B”H our community suffered much less damage. So many of us stood and watched on Sunday morning as the rising water crept closer and closer to our homes. B”H most of us, had no damage. And even for those who were damaged it was minimal compared to what much of the city went through. We should all have a tremendous hakaras hatov for having been spared while so many were not. We do not understand the ways of Hashem, but that should not stop us from appreciating the great chesed that we received this week.
May all of those who are suffering be consoled quickly and may all Houstonians go many more years before having to worry about flooding again.
We lived in Houston during 1998-2000 and were members of Rabbi Wender’s Young Israel of Houston. This was a good time for us; we were overwhelmed by the pervasive friendliness and hospitality and by the positive attitude toward Torah learning and outreach. The Wenders and other shul members contributed greatly toward this.
Anyway, about the geography: The Young Israel is in the Fondren Southwest area. That area and the immediately adjacent neighborhoods had some degree of flooding on some blocks but not nearly as widespread and catastrophic as in some other areas where Jews are concentrated, such as Meyerland (see http://www.meyerlandminyan.org/ ) and Willow Meadows (see http://www.uosh.org/ ).
These latter areas suffered from their proximity to Brays Bayou, essentially a large drainage ditch, which overflowed even more than in other recent flood events. The land in Houston and for many miles in all directions is totally low and flat, with the only higher elevations being buildings, bridges and some highways.
More on the current situation in Jewish communities: http://jhvonline.com/
More on Brays Bayou: https://www.hcfcd.org/media/1285/brays-bayou-watershed110513b.pdf
More on the general flooding problem (published in 2016): https://www.click2houston.com/news/what-causes-houstons-flooding-problem
Both the OU and Agudah have on line means of pledging assistance. Seasons, a major supermarket chaini with branches in many major Torah observant communities is accepting donations of food based on its list. YWN profiled a Hatzalah crew from my neighborhood in Houston-You won’t comprehend the level and degree of destruction until you see the pictures. Houston is no red state backwater-it is the fourth largest city in the US and home to major medical and high tech research entities, as well as a major locale for oil refinery as well.
Hatzala in Houston https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/featured/1350473/kiddush-hashem-hatzolah-members-jet911-around-usa-help-rescue-efforts-flooded-houston-videos-photos.html
https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/1351376/watch-hatzolah-volunteers-across-usa-went-door-door-houstons-flooded-neighborhoods.html Mycroft-you mentioned that we are more “insular”. One does not work in water up to his neck to rescue people or search for R”L for fatalities in one’s spare time if he is insular.
Insular being concerned with and open to those not of our machene, entirely different question than being present at disasters . Hatzalah was present at WTC during 911. My insular comment refers to the general way we are open to those not like us. Are our schuls places where someone not part of club would even feel welcome. Note change in appearance from Lita Yeshvas pre WW 11 one can see clean shaven. Look at SIL who were Talmeidim at RIETS of the two leading RY at my time clean,y shaven. At shiur in Israel used to see a son and grandson of RIETS RY cleanly shaven. If one wants to market oneself to the world be does not differentiate oneself more than Halacha demands.. One must follow all Halacha but makes davening and schul as much as possible accessible. One of my favorites many times lessor have tfila one is allowed to state something, instead recently people bang. What is a bang on table supposed to mean.? To a person part of the inside it means something.
Of course, major change is shiurim in schuls, decades ago there were much more shiurim based on material that is at leas follow able by those who are not baki besefer, today not so.
Of course,not even offering Talmud Torahs as an option eliminates the non top 20 per cent of income and the bottom 50 percent of verbal ability are not welcome in day schools.
The paradox is that there are few if any people who have spent a lifetime interested in outreach. If we had a community of Steves we would be better off. I have my differences in hashkafa and certainly proper policy, but would take the total Steve anytime.
Guess which RIETS RY spend their summer vacations learning with high school kids who by and large are not the most motivated students in their class? That is what the Baalei chasidus call Tzimtzum.
The CI once commented that his primary critique with RZ was the elevation of the bdieved into a lchatchila. The Rambam in Hilcos Deos and the Ran in Nedarim 20b stated that Talmidei Chachamim are supposed to be people who are different or to use the word used in the Haggadah mtzuyanim.in every way possible .they are told models not salesmen to justify our departures from normative galactic standards
I think that your view of should and communities as insular is correct an unfortunately knows no hashkafic boundaries. When a ship is composed of families where everyone went to the same yeshivos and girls schools and summer camps and/or the same yeshivos in Israel it is very tough for someone who is a BT or a ger tzedek to break in unless they develope their own comfort level via a shul rav chavrusos shiurim and friends . There are such communities . That has nothing to do with whether a RY is clean shaven or not or the educational level of shiurim.in most shuls which from.my experience are textual but hardly on a level that the average graduate of any MO or Charesi yeshiva would find difficult. The trademark of all such shiurim.by any RIETS trained speaker remains a beginning middle and end followed by a summation of the essence of the shiur which I think was a trademark of any about by RYBS.
IT is a very unfortunate fact of life but if you are the only guy who does not wear a jacket and some sort of hat on top of a mipa and insists on wearing jeans for weekday davening you will feel uncomfortable as will a married woman who doesn’t cover her hair at all out of s hul in many major Torah observant communities.