Helping the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas as they face the epic devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.The storm that unleashed approximately 27 trillion gallons — or a record 51 inches — of rain on Texas and Louisiana left 50 people dead (a figure that is expected to increase), thousands of residents displaced and billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed.

https://www.defense.gov/Photos/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2001799185/

Rescue by Texas Army National Guardsmen. Photo: Lt. Zachary West.

While hatred and evil were on display a mere few weeks ago in Charlottesville, the best of humanity has shown itself during the response to Harvey. From the brothers who drove from Dallas to participate in multiple dangerous rescue efforts to the human chains spontaneously created for saving others to the local Pizza Hut that delivered pizzas by boat to people in need of food, selfless acts of courage have abounded during the tragedy in Texas.

For those still seeking a way to help the victims of Harvey, we have compiled the following list of Jewish organizations engaged in Harvey relief efforts: [Read more…]

Human and Don’t Forget Animal Welfare: More Mitzvah Storming

Hurricane Sandy Mitzvah Storming IV

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

1. Did you see Anat Hoffman’s tag line in her outreach for support of victims of Hurricane Sandy. “We are family,” she writes and cites Haaretz that “Israelis have followed no event in the United States as closely as Hurricane Sandy…and fact, New York City is the metropolitan area with the second largest Jewish population of any city after Tel Aviv.” Perhaps you have also seen the organization that serves Holocaust survivors soliciting Hurricane relief funds targeted for them. Never did it occur to me to fund raise based on the Jewishness of those affected — we are a human family during emergencies.

More after the jump.
Helping each other as equally as possible with eyes blind to difference, if not now, when? Many different religions are housing each others services right now in affected areas. Can we keep this a “simply human” situation, so many are still freezing in the dark and even still, without sufficient gasoline to relocate or forage for food?

Reports of houses of worship across every religion are now sharing sacred space throughout impacted regions, how inspiring is that? Candlelight b’nei mitzvah and first communions have abounded. While stories of religious leaders and youth groups going door to door have arrived in various movements’ press releases — I see no reason for us to get extra credit, claim credit, or pat ourselves on the back. Mitzvot are done for their own sake, not ours. And, yes, many of us will help repair synagogues, in Judaism lives get attention first.

When some of those I asked to join me in a trip to work in a shelter or setting the tikkun olam (social action) committee into motion, some replies most resembled this: “We only give and volunteer locally.” I felt very nonplussed and judgmental. It took awhile to process this with them.  Such a response turns out to come primarily from  “green thinking” that applies to every day living. Emergency funding and support has a very key strategic concept embedded – preventing emergency conditions from becoming chronic. Thinking local doesn’t do it for large scale emergencies, it compounds the long-term burden on society big time.

This morning I was reading an emergency room physician’s plea for people to be more aggressive about finding, taking in and insisting others get out of this cold wave– to prevent pneumonia and much more. The factors are pain and suffering, and costs of associated healthcare, and rehab of buildings that stay soggy rather than dry…I’m sure you get the point. Those who wrote us to volunteer to help with clean-up are in action in NJ as I write, I will again be with them today. They’ve asked for anonymity. Menschlichkeit is awesome.

Why were the tikkun olam committees in place throughout most Jewish organizations seemingly not pro-active rather than reactive? I’m sure many will be pondering this soon. The trauma of awaiting the storm is what I saw in the eyes of our Philly locals, it was so draining and some of our internet servers were ruined in lower Manhattan, underwater. So with compassion, we can move on to creating pro-active plans and assignments…for the next time. As my son who was evacuated from the Jersey shore put it: “We’ve had three storms this year already, the next time could be next week.”

2. Overarching best ways to help for those who live at a distance are clarifying — first, donate blood, this need has become urgent. Injuries to rescue and repair workers are vast because of the extremely hazardous conditions. http://www.redcrossblood.org/m…

3. The the vastness of need for clothing is proving to require bulk funding for bulk purchase of goods.Brooklyn Neighbors in Need Fund (a not-for-profit)”… asks that you…” donate money so we can buy the 600 pairs of underwear (socks, towels, belts, etc) we need for the Armory or John Jay.” [shelters].

Per the Red Cross: “The cost to sort, package and distribute these types of donations to disaster victims is usually greater than the cost of purchasing the items locally, and it is logistically impossible to distribute a wide variety of individual items in a meaningful and equitable way during an emergency of this magnitude.” Instead, make a financial gift via www.redcross.org, 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.  

4. Let’s not overlook the crisis in animal welfare. The Humane Society of the United States and American Humane Society are seeking donations to help rescue stranded pets and help animals in shelters. In every affected state they are looking for volunteers due the vast numbers of displaced pets.

5. The Food Bank For New York City has different ways for you to get involved: You can donate by texting FBNYC to 50555.

6. Clean-up Teams. All clean-up volunteers that have contacted us have been put into action through the State of New Jersey volunteer coordination effort. When asked, these volunteers requested anonymity — what menschlichkeit, thank you! By all means now fly direct – opportunities abound to help in shelters, door-to-door, clean-up and more.

Some more links just supplied by my ever-mitzvah-centered colleague Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit:

Most federations and many denominations are running support campaigns as well through links on their websites.

7. Prayer.

May we be blessed with the ability to heal, help, vote, and plan wisely for the future.

Via Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, a litany of prayers composed by Rabbi Samuel Barth and Rabbi David Ingber, folded together and expanded by The Rev. Peter Elvin, 2 November 2012:

*A Litany after the Hurricane*

Source of all Life, soothe hearts aching with pain and loss in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Strengthen all responders, all relief workers, all friends and neighbors, to do their best to alleviate suffering, heal injury, and restore services upon which our daily lives are built. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of Compassion, you are close to all who are confused and bewildered in the wake of this shocking storm. Quicken their recognition of your
presence all around them. Free their ability to move through shock, to see and make their very best choices. Stir our resolve to support, encourage, donate, and pray. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of Wisdom, move within all of our hearts and minds and wills to learn the most important questions to ask and answer. Instill your wisdom
in all who are responsible for public policy, for future preparedness, for re-building and for re-thinking, as the elements of your created order? wind and rain, tide and surge– disorder our old assumptions. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of all Creativity, anoint our wisdom, our technology, our compassion, and our national will to rise from the watery grave of this storm and claim the new life your Spirit desires and our future requires. Inspire us to find flexible ways to cooperate across old boundaries, freeing energy and resources to move with your blessing. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Vote for a leader on climate change

— by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.

The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. And in the short term, our subway system remains partially shut down, and many city residents and businesses still have no power. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable.

Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

Here in New York, our comprehensive sustainability plan — PlaNYC — has helped allow us to cut our carbon footprint by 16 percent in just five years, which is the equivalent of eliminating the carbon footprint of a city twice the size of Seattle. Through the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group — a partnership among many of the world’s largest cities — local governments are taking action where national governments are not.

More after the jump.


TPM2012: “The grassroots progressive group ClimateSilence.org is bringing Sandy into the presidential campaign in two of its most important battlegrounds — Ohio and Virginia — in the final stretch toward Election Day.

The group is running a TV ad on cable in key markets in both states built around a Romney quip in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention that dismissed Obama’s talk of climate change. While Romney speaks — and the sound of laughter from his Republican audience can be heard — footage from Sandy plays.”

Leadership Needed

But we can’t do it alone. We need leadership from the White House — and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.

Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed on to a regional cap- and-trade plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels. “The benefits (of that plan) will be long- lasting and enormous — benefits to our health, our economy, our quality of life, our very landscape. These are actions we can and must take now, if we are to have ‘no regrets’ when we transfer our temporary stewardship of this Earth to the next generation,” he wrote at the time.

He couldn’t have been more right. But since then, he has reversed course, abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward.

I believe Mitt Romney is a good and decent man, and he would bring valuable business experience to the Oval Office. He understands that America was built on the promise of equal opportunity, not equal results. In the past he has also taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care. But he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the health-care model he signed into law in Massachusetts.

If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him because, like so many other independents, I have found the past four years to be, in a word, disappointing.

In 2008, Obama ran as a pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder. But as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction. And rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.

Important Victories

Nevertheless, the president has achieved some important victories on issues that will help define our future. His Race to the Top education program — much of which was opposed by the teachers’ unions, a traditional Democratic Party constituency — has helped drive badly needed reform across the country, giving local districts leverage to strengthen accountability in the classroom and expand charter schools. His health-care law — for all its flaws — will provide insurance coverage to people who need it most and save lives.

When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.

One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected for future generations; one does not. That difference, given the likelihood of Supreme Court vacancies, weighs heavily on my decision.

One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history.

One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.

Of course, neither candidate has specified what hard decisions he will make to get our economy back on track while also balancing the budget. But in the end, what matters most isn’t the shape of any particular proposal; it’s the work that must be done to bring members of Congress together to achieve bipartisan solutions.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both found success while their parties were out of power in Congress — and President Obama can, too. If he listens to people on both sides of the aisle, and builds the trust of moderates, he can fulfill the hope he inspired four years ago and lead our country toward a better future for my children and yours. And that’s why I will be voting for him.  

Pres. Obama & Gov. Christie Survey Hurricane Damage

Remarks at Brigantine Marina after surveying damage from Hurricane Sandy

GOVERNOR CHRISTIE:  Good afternoon, everybody.  And thank you all for coming today.  I want to thank the members who are here as well.  And obviously, I want to thank the President.

We spent a significant afternoon together surveying the damage up and down the New Jersey coastline; we were on Marine One together to be able to show the President that personally.  I had an opportunity to see it, and we had an opportunity to discuss it at length.  And then, going over to the shelter here, being able to meet with folks to have them see the President and his concern, and the concern that all of us have for making sure that things get back to normal as quickly as possible.

We have lots of challenges.  One of our challenges now is to get back to normalcy.  And so the things we need to do is to make sure that we get power restored as quickly as possible; make sure that people have clean drinking water, and waste water treatment plants are working; hospitals are taken care of the way they need to; and that we get kids back to school.

And so, I discussed all those issues today with the President, and I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things while we were in the car riding together.  So I want to thank him for that.  He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit.  I think this is our sixth conversation since the weekend, and it’s been a great working relationship to make sure that we’re doing the jobs that people elected us to do.  And I cannot thank the President enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state.  And I heard it on the phone conversations with him, and I was able to witness it today personally.

And so we’re going to continue to work.  The state government is here.  We’re doing what we need to do.  We’re coordinating with FEMA, and I want to thank Administrator Fugate for being here and for the input he’s already had in helping to make our operation even better.  And we will move on from here.

What I said yesterday I really mean.  I know there has got to be sorrow, and you see that and the President has seen that today in the eyes — the faces of a lot of the folks he’s met.  And that sorrow is appropriate; we’ve suffered some loss.  Luckily, we haven’t suffered that much loss of life and we thank God for that.  But we have suffered losses, and this is the worst storm that I’ve seen in my lifetime in this state.  But we cannot permit that sorrow to replace the resilience that I know all New Jerseyans have.  And so we will get up and we’ll get this thing rebuilt, and we’ll put things back together, because that’s what this state is all about and always has been all about.

And so for all of you who are here — and I met a bunch of you today at Brigantine who disregarded my admonition — (laughter) — to get the hell out of here — you’re forgiven this time.  You are forgiven this time, but not for much longer.  We’ve got to make sure when all of you look around and you see all this destruction, that’s fine — but you know what, all that stuff can be replaced.  You look to your right and to your left, to your husband or wife, your son or your daughter — those are the things that can’t be replaced.  So I’m glad that we don’t have that kind of loss of life to have to deal with.

So I want to thank him for being here today, for bringing his personal attention to it.  And it’s my honor to introduce to all of you the President of the United States.  (Applause.)

Transcript of President’s remarks follow the jump.
President Barack Obama: Thank you, everybody.  Let me just make sure that I acknowledge the folks who are here, because they’ve played an important role in this.

First of all, your congressional delegation — Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Congressman Frank LoBiondo, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, and Brigantine Mayor Philip Guenther.

Obviously, this is a federal, state, and local effort.  And the first thing I want to do is just to thank everybody who has been involved in the entire rescue and recovery process.  At the top of my list, I have to say that Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive; he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm.  And I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before.  So I just want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership.

I want to thank the congressional delegation because part of the reason we’re going to be able to respond quickly to all this is because they helped to make sure that FEMA financing was in place, and we’re very appreciative of those efforts.  And I want to thank Craig Fugate; sometimes people just think FEMA and they don’t think the people behind them, but Craig lives and breathes this stuff, making sure that we’re providing the help that people so desperately need in these situations.

I want to thank all the first responders who have been involved in this process — the linesmen, the firefighters, the folks who were in here shuttling out people who were supposed to “get the hell out” and didn’t.  You’ve helped to save a lot of lives and a lot of property.  And one of the things that you learn in these tragedies is, the first responders — keep in mind their homes usually are underwater too, or their families have been affected in some way, and yet they make those personal sacrifices to help other people.  So we really appreciate them.

I’m just going to make a couple of comments.  Number one, and most important, our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones.  It’s true that because of some good preparation, the loss of life was kept lower than it might have been, but for those individual families, obviously their world has been torn apart.  And we need to make sure that everybody who has lost a loved one knows they’re in our thoughts and prayers — and I speak for the whole country there.

For those like the people I just had the chance to meet on this block and throughout New Jersey and throughout the region whose lives have been upended, my second message is we are here for you, and we will not forget; we will follow up to make sure that you get all the help that you need until you’ve rebuilt.

At this point, our main focus is on the states of New Jersey, which got hit harder than anybody; the state of New York, particularly lower Manhattan and Long Island.  We are very concerned about some situations in Connecticut as well, and we’re still monitoring West Virginia where there are heavy snows in some inaccessible areas.  But for the most part, those four states are really bearing the brunt of this incredible storm.

What we’ve been able to do is to pre-position and stage commodities — water, power generators, ambulances in some cases, food, medical supplies, emergency supplies — and we have over 2,000 FEMA personnel that are on the ground right now.  Their job, now that we’re moving out of the search-and-rescue phase, is to make sure that they are going out and talking to individual communities so that people know exactly how they can get the help that they need.

We expedited our emergency declarations for the state of New Jersey and local counties that have been affected.  What that means is, is that people can immediately start registering for emergency assistance.  And one of the things I want to emphasize to the people of New Jersey and throughout the region:  Now that you’re safe, your family is safe, but you’re trying to figure out where you’re going to stay for the next couple of days, et cetera, it’s very important that you know that there is help available to you right now, for example, to find rental housing or to be able to pay for some groceries.  Over at the community center we saw a young woman who had a newborn, or I guess probably an eight-month old, still needs diapers and formula, and has run out.  Those are the kinds of basic supplies and help that we can provide.

If you call 800-621-FEMA — 800-621-FEMA — or DisasterAssistance.gov — if you’ve got access to the Internet, you can go to DisasterAssistance.gov.  What that allows you to do is to register right now so that you can immediately start receiving help.  We want to make sure that you get everything that you need.

Just a couple of final points.  Obviously, our biggest priority right now is getting power turned back on.  We were very pleased that Newark got power yesterday; Jersey City is getting power we believe today.  But there are still big chunks of the community, including this community right here, that don’t have power.  And so it’s hard enough cleaning up debris and dealing with boats that have been upended and roads that are blocked; when people don’t have power, though, obviously they’re disabled in all sorts of ways and it’s hard to get back to normal.

So yesterday, I had a chance to speak to the CEOs of the utilities from all across the country.  And a lot of the states that were spared, that were not hard hit, or some states as far away as California, they have pledged to start getting equipment crews, et cetera, here into New Jersey and New York and Connecticut as quickly as possible.

And one of the things that we’ve been able to do — just to give you a sense of how this is an all-hands-deck approach — we’re able to get C-17s and C-130s, military transport planes, potentially, to move assets, personnel to speed up the process of getting power up and running as soon as possible.

Our first priority is water filtration plants and some other critical infrastructure in the state; for that, we’ve got emergency generators.  We’ve got a Navy ship that has some helicopters that can help to move assets around the state as well.  And so we’re going to be working with Governor Christie’s office and local officials to identify what are those critical infrastructure, how can we get what’s needed as quickly as possible.

Just a couple of other things that we’re concerned about — one is, as power starts coming back on, we want to make sure that people can also get to work.  Obviously, there are a lot of folks in Jersey who work in New York, in the city, and in other places where transportation may be hobbled.  One of the things I mentioned to the Governor is the possibility of us using federal assets, military assets, as well as taking inventory of assets from around the country that can be brought in so that we can help people get to their work.

And Governor Christie also mentioned the importance of schools.  The sooner we can get our kids back into school, the sooner they’re back into a routine; that obviously helps the families and helps the kids as well.

So we’re going to have a lot of work to do.  I don’t want anybody to feel that somehow this is all going to get cleaned up overnight.  We want to make sure that people have realistic expectations.

But what I can promise you is that the federal government will be working as closely as possible with the state and local officials, and we will not quit until this is done.  And the directive that I have given — and I said this yesterday, but I will repeat; and I think Craig and others who are working with me right now know I mean it — we are not going to tolerate red tape.  We’re not going to tolerate bureaucracy.  And I’ve instituted a 15-minute rule, essentially, on my team:  You return everybody’s phone calls in 15 minutes, whether it’s the mayors’, the governors’, county officials’.  If they need something, we figure out a way to say yes.

As I was just gathering around, I had a chance to talk to some of the young people here who have been volunteering, going up and down the block cleaning up debris.  And when we were over at the community center, there was a restaurant owner who, for the last 18 hours, had been cooking meals, just as his contribution to the recovery process.  And some of the folks were saying the food was better than they got at home.  (Laughter.)  You had a 15-year-old young man whose mother was disabled, and he was making sure that she was okay, and taking on extraordinary responsibilities for himself but also for his mom.

And when you see folks like that respond with strength and resilience, when you see neighbors helping neighbors, then you’re reminded about what America is all about.  We go through tough times, but we bounce back.  And the reason we bounce back is because we look out for one another and we don’t leave anybody behind.

And so my commitment to the people on this block, the people in this community, and the people of this state is that that same spirit will carry over all the way through until our work is done.  All right?

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)    

Mitzvah Storming During Hurricane Sandy

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Mitzvah Storming Part 1

As we batten down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, there are many mitzvot to undertake for family and neighbors. Here are several that come quickly to mind that I haven’t seen on the standard sites to help us prepare.

  1. Call elderly neighbors and those who are disabled and/or unemployed, physically ill or emotionally fragile to ask if they need help bringing things in from outside, property and auto protection, make sure they secure sufficient food, water and batteries. You might bring them in to stay in a guestroom to reduce fear and isolation, ensure warmth and safety.
  2. Are you the wrong person to be alone right now? Call friends, family and neighbors and arrange to stay with them. Bring provisions, flashlights and batteries to help out. Far better safe than sorry.
  3. Make a regular check-in plan for while the storm rages, if electric goes out, keep these short and reassuring so as not to lose all your battery.
  4. Now and during the storm, start collecting things to donate to those who will have had major losses, talk together about a family tzedakah plan for funds to donate as well.
  5. No one to reach out to? E-mail me and our team at PJVoice will do our best to respond.

IsraAID Team aids in Haiti Hurricane Evacuation Effort


As Hurricane Tomas pummels Haiti, B’nai B’rith International is continuing its program of relief to residents of the beleaguered nation. Our partner, The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid (IsraAID), an Israeli relief organization team already stationed in Port-au-Prince, Leogane, and Jacmel has quickly mobilized to lend assistance to refugees overwhelmed by flooding and mud slides.  IsraAID, of which B’nai B’rith is a founding partner, has been rendering assistance to thousands of refugees since January’s earthquake.

The hurricane has gained momentum in recent days at sea, bringing strong winds and heavy rains to the already devastated island nation.

B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider, B’nai B’rith’s representative to IsraAID, is in Haiti as part of a previously scheduled visit to assist in long-term relief efforts. He said, “Disturbances broke out in a number of refugee camps housing thousands of displaced people from the January earthquake. The refugees were fearful that they would be left with no shelter and refuge at all.”

Where possible, children were transported from IsraAID-operated community centers and schools to safe areas. The Israeli team is working with other international aid agencies to coordinate relief efforts to transport handicapped refugees, who could not be moved safely, to centers and schools in the relatively safe Leogane area.

The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund has raised $250,000 for relief.