Galveston, Oh Galveston

Just about one month ago, on Saturday, September 13th, Hurricane Ike made landfall at Galveston Island, Texas. For days prior, the upcoming storm made news all over the U.S. and a mandatory evacuation was in place. When it finally hit, winds exceeded 100 mph, over 4 million homes in Texas were without electricity and many without water. It took twelve hours to pass over the region.

The next day Wall Street began to unravel, the upcoming Presidential election continued to make news and Ike was history. Texas disappeared from the national radar.

Precious little has been said since; especially about the 700 member strong Jewish community, the oldest in Texas. A community where many families in Houston can also trace their roots back to.

Galveston is home to two congregations, Temple B’nai Israel (the oldest Reform synagogue in Texas) and Congregation Beth Jacob (Conservative). The former sustained only modest damage from Ike and the hope is with the electricity back on, repairs can be easily made.

Congregation Beth Jacob, on the other hand, had catastrophic damage to the interior. Pretty much a total loss. The Torah scrolls and other religious articles all came through intact and were brought back to Houston about a week ago for safe-keeping by Greater Houston Federation CEO Lee Wunsch.

As for Yom Kippur worship, creativity was the name of the day. From a congregant’s email:

“we had a “highlights” of Yom Kippur on Thursday morning including kol nidrei, al chet, avinu malkeinu, torah reading, yizkor, and nielah all in the morning between 10:30 and 11:45.  There were about 200 folk attending including non-members from Houston who had long ties to B’nai Israel. It was incredible.”

In Houston proper, most of the damage was from flooding and some areas (including where the Federation offices are located) were without electricity for almost three weeks. Lee told me the UJC has been very helpful, providing both in-kind donations and food which due to the lack of electricity caused the food bank to operate on overdrive.

The biggest challenge, he continued, was that in the storm’s aftermath the ability to communicate with the community was limited. Landlines were not operational; cell phones often went directly to voicemail, and email was naturally unavailable where there was no electricity. Once things quiet down and begin returning to normal, disaster communication is an area they plan to revisit.

But while the storm is now history, for many the pain still remains in destroyed homes, property and near financial ruin.

The UJC / Federation system has launched a non-sectarian relief effort for victims of Ike and other storms along the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana and Texas. A mailbox has been opened to accept donations; 100 percent of which will help support both the Jewish and general communities.

Thanks to Lee Wunsch and David Nathan of Houston Federation for keeping us in-the-loop following the storm.