Update on Federations’ National Emergency Response Efforts

by | Nov 2, 2017 | Other News

Jewish Federations of North America’s Emergency Committee, and many Federations on the front lines of addressing natural disasters, have had an extraordinarily busy and taxing eight weeks since the start of Hurricane Harvey.

Following is an update on the work of the Federation system to date:

Hurricane Harvey
Seven weeks following the end of the rain, Houston and the other areas affected by Hurricane Harvey were still in fairly early stages of recovery. With more than 2,000 Jewish homes flooded, and eight major institutional facilities in the Jewish community sustaining catastrophic damage, the scope of issues facing the Houston Jewish community are enormous.

To date, approximately $18M has been raised through the Jewish Federation system. Of this amount, more than $12M has been allocated through the Houston Federation and the national Emergency Committee process to provide direct relief to flood victims (trauma counseling, case management, and financial assistance), to help these people stay connected to Jewish life and community, and to address institutional sustainability and repair issues. The focus of the Jewish Federations’ national funding is primarily in the area of relief to flood victims. While the primary focus is on the enormous impact of the flood in Houston, the Federation’s Emergency Committee has also worked with the small communities in Galveston and Beaumont.

Work continues to organize the next phases of response to the flood, deploy the additional funds raised, and raise additional funds.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria
The impact on mainland Florida from Hurricane Irma was less severe than anticipated, especially for the larger concentrations of Jewish population on Florida’s east coast. While the larger communities in South Florida (Miami, Broward County, South Palm Beach, and Palm Beach) were generally able to address the issues in their own communities and extend assistance to other communities, there was heavier impact on some of the smaller communities further north (Collier County, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine). A unique role was fulfilled by Chabad across numerous Florida communities in providing congregate and home-delivered meals to seniors and others affected by prolonged power outages.

The biggest impact of these storms have been felt in the islands off the coast of Florida, within and beyond the US border—Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Florida Keys, Cuba, and others. The national Emergency Committee has focused on the U.S. communities affected, while the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is supporting Cuba and other island nations. A major focus of Federation efforts has been in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, which are both characterized by small Jewish communities deeply affected amidst a sea of misery well-documented in the news media.

None of these communities have communal infrastructure beyond individual synagogues and Federation support has primarily been directly to affected individuals through the various congregations, and supporting the work of IsraAID and the AFYA Foundation, who are providing humanitarian assistance to the Jewish communities and on a significant non-sectarian basis.

Several large Federations are working directly with partners in their own communities or international aid organizations with which they have relationships. To date, JFNA has funds raised by local Federations of $900,000 and has allocated $530,000.

In addition to these funds, with the financial support of UJA Federation of New York, JFNA acquired and delivered 212 urgently needed generators to Jewish communities in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and the Keys for members of the Jewish community and others in need. Several Federations, most notably New York, Miami, Broward, and South Palm Beach have all been engaged in direct relief efforts in the island communities which are not reflected in these numbers.

North Bay Fires in California
The most recent focus of disaster relief efforts has been in response to the extensive wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties in California.

Within the Jewish community, dozens of Jewish homes were destroyed by fire, and URJ’s Camp Newman was also largely destroyed. The Jewish Federation of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties and the Jewish Federation of the East Bay Jewish Federation partnered together to create the North Bay Wildfire Relief Fund, and have coordinated their relief efforts during and in the immediate aftermath of the fires. JFNA has not established a separate national fund and encourages all Federations to direct relief funds to the fund established by the Bay Area federations.

Reach JFNA’s hurricane relief fund by visiting www.jewishfederations.org.

Mark Gurvis is executive vice president of Jewish Federations of North America. 

– Mark Gurvis