The news out of Houston has been absolutely devastating and the pictures heart-wrenching. I can hardly imagine what it’s like to be there right now. As of this writing, at least 10 people have died due to Hurricane Harvey, and homeowners will deal with an estimated $30 billion in damages while the city is still under water and people are trapped.
As you’ll read in my story this week, at least three synagogues have flooded. I’m not aware of the status of their sacred objects, but it’s likely some were damaged.
While those of us outside of Houston must rally on its behalf and do what we can to make sure recovery is smooth and swift, we should also ask ourselves: Are we prepared for such a disaster?
While hindsight never helps in a terrible situations such as this, it seems Houston was unprepared for such an unprecedented event. For me, it begs the question: Is Baltimore — a harbor city that internet research tells me is 480 feet above sea level at its peak — prepared for such an event? Has our city been developed in a way that would hinder recovery? Are evacuation plans in place? Are our Jewish institutions, synagogues and sacred objects vulnerable?
As weather patterns become more erratic due to climate change, it is essential that leaders around the country and the world ask these hard questions and take action for the sake of their citizens. We must learn from Hurricane Harvey to prevent future tragedies.
There is a silver lining here: the endless number of individuals and organizations who have stepped up to help. Chabad and the Orthodox Union are working to meet the needs of the Jewish community on the ground in Texas — a Texas woman told me Chabad was working to get kosher food to shelters where it wasn’t available. Locally, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Jewish Federation of Howard County are raising money.
A call to philanthropist Frank Storch put me in touch with Miami resident and volunteer EMT David Goldwasser, who, without hesitation, drove to Texas with two retired military special ops soldiers, buying a boat en route, to take part in rescue missions. Driving more than 1,000 miles and buying and outfitting a boat — for which Storch planned to help raise funds — was a no-brainer for Goldwasser.
As you’ll read in Justin Silberman’s cover story this week, we live in an incredibly politically divisive time, so much so that some people didn’t want to use their real names. One positive effect of this horrible tragedy is that we’ve all been reminded of our common humanity. I’d assume when Goldwasser and his two companions are pulling people onto their boat, they’re not going to ask them if they’re Democrats or Republicans, and my guess is those being rescued won’t care about the political leanings of those helping them. We should all remember that, and not wait for a hurricane to remind us.