Jewish groups rally to help hurricane victims

Jewish groups and communities across the United States have responded to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and moved quickly to help victims across the Gulf Coast, either in collecting donations or in hosting those displaced by the devastating storm. Chabad has been the most active on the ground so far, mobilizing its emissaries in communities near New Orleans and the rest of the affected region. Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Chabad in Houston, for example, has been working around the clock to help in a range of ways. He was one of the first people to offer help in organizing relief efforts at the Astrodome, where thousands of New Orleans residents were brought last week. “We went immediately to the Astrodome, even before FEMA and the Red Cross were there,” he said on Friday. “We helped them set up cots and bedding and clothing We’re trying to help them in any way we can. We’ve tried our best to coordinate with the other organizations; we encouraged them to start a registry of refugees/evacuees.” One benefit of the registry, explained Lazaroff, was to identify Jewish victims in need so that Chabad could offer them help. Lazaroff said he and other members of the Houston Jewish community have worked to find local landlords willing to offer temporary shelter to dislocated families, find employers with jobs available to offer those whose employment has been indefinitely interrupted, and more. “We are overwhelmed here. I’ve been handling calls the entire day, from evacuees and from people who want to help,” said Lazaroff. “We’ve set up a database for food, housing, clothing One man whose mother died asked for help in getting her out of New Orleans and buried. “People here have opened up their hearts,” added Lazaroff, “taking people in and telling them they can stay indefinitely. We’ve opened up the day school for free to take in children from the area. We are trying to take care of them educationally and psychologically We need to get people to come to the realization that they’re not going back to New Orleans any time soon.” Chabad, which is providing aid to Jewish victims of the hurricane, is also working with other Jewish organizations and community federations that are providing aid to all those in need. The list is long: United Jewish Communities, the American Jewish Committee, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies, B’nai B’rith – even the Chicago-based Alliance of Latinos and Jews is getting involved. All three major religious streams are represented in the efforts as well. The Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism have set up emergency relief funds for donations to the larger evacuation and alleviation efforts going on, and the Orthodox Union has joined with the Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University in setting up a disaster fund as well. The United Jewish Communities (UJC), an umbrella organization of Jewish federations in North America, established a special emergency fund and is receiving, since Tuesday, donations from Jews who wish to help the relief effort. The UJC has already raised well over $1 million, which it is using to assist with housing, mental health counseling, emergency financial assistance, food, water and education for children. It has also been helping the New Orleans federation develop a communications network for evacuees. To donate money to the UJC relief fund, click here. The UJC fund will also deal with contributions funneled through other major Jewish organizations, among them the Joint, AIPAC and the American Jewish World Service. Carol Smokler, chair of the emergency committee at the UJC, said that the Jewish community has always been at the forefront of responding to human and natural disasters, adding that the Jewish federations of North America will “respond rapidly to ease the challenges and suffering of our Jewish brethren and their neighbors”. In an open letter sent out this Friday to members of the Jewish federations, Howard Rieger, president of the UJC, said that the Jewish community is working tirelessly to respond to the needs of the hurricane struck areas and to the specific needs of the Jewish communities in these areas – reconstruction of community buildings, replacing sacred books and helping communities get ready for the high holidays. Rieger stressed in his letter that the Jewish community must not forget the need to help other people in America and around the world that are also suffering. “Today, New Orleans and Mississippi. But today is also Darfur the former Soviet Union, the hungry in North America or Israel or the Southeast Asian communities wiped out by the tsunami”, wrote Rieger. BPI-info