2018-02-28 / Columns

Houston and Purim: Learning valuable lessons about giving

Jewish Federation CEO

Tonight is the start of Purim—the celebration of Esther and Mordecai saving the Jewish people from the nasty plot of the evil Haman. Purim is a time for festivities, costumes, and, of course, hamantaschen. However, Purim also teaches us an important life lesson: That a small amount of people, or even a single person, can make a huge difference in the lives of so many. This year we witnessed numerous destructive forces. I recently returned from a business trip to Houston, where Haman is named Harvey. Every life was touched and affected by the destruction and every single person made a difference in the recovery. This is my Purim experience.

The Houston Jewish community was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. A majority of Houston’s Jewish community lives within a two-mile radius that was decimated when Harvey came to town. People lost homes and belongings; synagogues and JCCs were devastated. When touring the Houston community, you are struck by the numerous homes that are dark or marked to be razed to the ground. The JCC was inundated by 10 feet of water, which destroyed the lower level of their building. My sinuses felt the mold immediately, and touring the destructive path of Harvey was chilling. Listening to the tour guide as she told the tale of rescue that she and her family endured— leaving their home via “monster truck” and canoe— made us all ask the same question: How could this happen?

One of the rabbis in Houston, Rabbi Strauss, spoke of how he lost his home and shul in the floods. His inspirational speech reminded us all about the resiliency of life—how we all have an Esther or a Mordecai in each of us. The true heroes were those who lost their homes while helping others rebuild their own. Many staff members of the Houston Federation and its agencies (JCC and JFCS) lost their homes during Hurricane Harvey, yet they continued working every day to help others in need by providing food, shelter, and resources to rebuild, even though they were living out of hotels. It was such an amazing life lesson—one the Jewish people have learned over and over: helping others helps us through our most difficult times of adversity.

I am proud to say that, yes, Houston is Strong. Unbelievably strong. While there is much still to be done, there is inspiration in any instance of destruction. Haman/Harvey provided opportunities for strength in darkness and for a community to come together like never before. We too should be proud: Our community alone allocated over $10,000 to Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, and the efforts of Jewish Federations around the world are making a huge difference. Even the State of Israel donated $1-million to Harvey relief.

The Houston Federation is offering a March “Fly-in” to tour the Houston community and to learn how to support the Hurricane Harvey rebuilding process. If anyone is interested in touring the Houston community, please email me at jweiss@jfedsnj.org. We are all Esthers and Mordecais, overcoming Haman, strengthening each other, and celebrating our resilience.

Happy Purim!


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