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Houston’s Plight: An open letter from a Lakewood resident

To the great people of Lakewood, Less than three weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey visited Houston, leaving damage and destruction in its wake. The Jewish community there was especially hurt. More than half of the city’s 450 shomer Shabbos families were displaced by the flooding, many of them completely losing their homes. Hundreds of people lost everything they owned, as five to ten feet of water soaked all their possessions. From family heirlooms to children’s projects, clothing to Sheitals, birth certificates to computers, all made their way into huge piles of debris that stand in front of each flooded home. The carnage is unlike anything most people will ever experience in their lives.

But Klal Yisroel are rachmanim bnei rachmanim, and they always rise to the challenge. Yidden mobilized all across the country, and the wheels of chesed and tzedakah rolled into play. Volunteers from many communities dropped their lives and picked up to travel to Houston. Collections were initiated in a slew of areas, each one rapidly maxing out their capacity. Truck after truck rolled into the Jewish centers of Houston, each one supplying storm victims with the vital necessities needed to carry on with their daily lives. Aside from the physical supplies pouring in, the sentiments that stood behind them carried the day as well, as the forlorn newly homeless Jews realized that they were by no means suffering alone. The feeling gave them strength in their toughest days.

There is, however, still one major void in this heartwarming story. There is no dearth of supplies and goodwill, but money remains the make-it-or-break-it factor that will determine whether these yidden will ever be able to carry on a normal life. Let me just put this in perspective, with a quick view at the big picture.

Let us say that someone was completely covered by flood insurance. Insurance will reimburse them for all damage that was inflicted on the house. They now have the money to pay contractors to fix their homes. However, there are no contractors available for months, as the demand for such work skyrocketed in the flood-devastated city. Additionally, sheetrock and other materials are very scarce, and it will take a while until the supply is replenished. It can take months until workers will be able to start on the house, and more months until the labor is complete. During all this time, the owner must still pay his regular mortgage payments. Not only that, but he has to also pay rent for his temporary dwelling. Besides for the double payment, living expenses can be substantially more when living under temporary conditions. Many of these people cannot carry on working, as rebuilding is a full time job, and dealing with insurance claims is time-draining as well. This is all for people who were completely covered by insurance!

There are some, who through no fault of their own, have not been covered by flood insurance. There were a few yidden who have just moved into new homes. Insurance policy mandates a 30 day wait time from when you apply for insurance until coverage begins. (This is to prevent people from buying insurance based on gloomy weather forecasts.) Some of these people were already up to day 27 or 28 of the wait period when Harvey hit. They didn’t get even one penny from insurance! There were also some who simply live outside of the flood zone, and never considered the need for flood insurance. These people, in addition to all the expenses listed before, also must shell out the money for rebuilding costs. It is money that most simply don’t have.

The bottom line is that there are frum families who until now were respectable self-sufficient families, and now need tremendous sums of money to get back their lives back on track. The supplies were a tremendous help, but funds are now the most vital necessity.

Please allow me to end with just one more thought. Please forgive me in advance if what I say is a little bold or farfetched. It is a mere notion, and feel free to disregard it if it rubs you the wrong way.

Many are apprehensive when people stand in the face of tragedy and proclaim the reason it struck. ‘We don’t know the ways of Hashem’, they say, ‘it’s not for us to conjecture about them.’ I can’t argue, and therefore wouldn’t dare to say the following as fact. I am merely putting it out there as a hypothesis, in the hope that even if said theoretically alone, it will still be enough to drive home a point.

I can only imagine the impact that all the chesed had in shamayim. I can picture Hashem ready to decree great things on his nation as a result. Then I see the soton, creeping forward, vying to stop the flow of goodness. He stands up and downplays all the gallantry. He pins it all on the spirit and enthusiasm that prevailed throughout the country. “They live in a social-media generation,” he says. “It was a trending activity to shlep boxes. They didn’t do it with your children in Houston in mind.” He continues to paint a picture of the ‘matzav’ that people felt, stirred up by the askanim, and fueled by the media. “These people don’t deserve a reward,” he concludes. “They did it all for the pomp and fanfare.”

Silence reins in the heavenly court. Hashem considers the words of the soton, and agrees to a test that will gauge the intentions of his nation.

“Let there be another storm, in a different place,” Hashem, Kaviyachol, proclaims. “Let’s draw the media attention and pomp away from my children in Houston, and make Hurricane Harvey old news. Then we can see if people really care for the plight of the yidden in Houston. If they continue to fulfill their needs when it is no longer trendy, then we know that their intentions are completely noble.”

I wished to refrain from writing such a mundane moshal about the Holiest of Holies. I also don’t mean to make light of the situation in Florida. However, as unrealistic as it may sound, the cheshbon expressed in the story is definitely true, and helping out now definitely reflects on our deeds before. We can show Hashem that our intentions all along were sincere, by donating to Houston’s flood victims when the excitement for such aid has been out-shadowed by Hurricane Irma news.

Fellow yidden, I beg you. Go to agudathisrael.org, or any of the other Harvey relief funds, and make a donation. Donations can also be sent to Agudath Israel’s offices at 42 Broadway, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10004 (checks should be made out to Agudath Israel but marked “Disaster Relief Fund”.) The need is astounding. So many yidden’s future lie in your hands, please don’t let them down.

A Lakewood resident who cannot forget our brothers in Houston.

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There are 3 Comments to "Houston’s Plight: An open letter from a Lakewood resident"

  • Wow! says:

    It’s so sad. I never looked at it from this perspective.

  • True says:

    I have relatives in Houston and this account is a hundred percent true. they told me that people dont have money for rent and essentials

  • Goldy says:

    Thank you, Lakewood resident, for writing this letter. You inspired me to now give a donation to help out. Tizki lmitzvos!

    I would like to share something that I read by Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss:

    Why is it that charity is unique in its ability to save our lives? Why don’t we say “Shabbos tatzil mimaves,” or “Kashrus tatzil mimaves,” or perhaps “Taharas mishpocha-family purity tatzil mimaves?” What is so special about charity that it is vested with such awesome power? I believe the reason is as follows. Let’s say you make twenty-five dollars an hour. You then go to shul on Shabbos and they have an appeal for Hatzoloh, the local Bikur Cholim, or your community yeshiva or day school. You benevolently respond by giving one hundred dollars. In essence, what are you really giving to charity? Let’s examine this carefully. It took you four hours to earn that money, so what you are really giving to charity is four hours of your life. We know that Hashem rewards in a very liberal way measure-for-measure the mitzvahs that we do. Therefore, since we are giving to charily some portion of our life, Hashem will reward us back with extra life, thus beautifully explaining why charily saves us from death.

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