JTS Students Help Hurricane Victims

Congregation Brith Shalom is located on Bellaire Boulevard just outside Houston, Texas in the city of Bellaire. Three weeks ago, the synagogue could also be found in the midst of Hurricane Ike as the category two storm battered the city and surrounding environs with one hundred and ten mile-an-hour winds.

While suffering water and property damage, the synagogue itself emerged mostly unscathed. However, the same could not be said for congregants, as half of the shul’s 500 families were without power. They turned to Brith Shalom for help, nurturing and assistance. As testament to the storms impact on the Jewish community of greater Houston, last Shabbat, according to Congregation Brith Shalom Rabbi Ron Teller, there was no kosher food in the city.

After a call to JTS by synagogue president Dr. Ron Moses, The Rabbinical School asked its students if any would be able—on just a day’s notice — to travel to Houston in advance of Rosh Hashanah to assist in recovery efforts. Six students responded affirmatively within a few hours; the congregation invited two second year students, Aviva Kremer and Annie Lewis, to participate.

Arriving on September 25, the pair were quickly put to work checking on elderly congregants, working at a local food bank, arranging a meal exchange program for erev Rosh Hashanah, and other tasks, before their departure three days later. Annie noted that despite the hardships endured as a result of the hurricane, “Most people we met were in good spirits.”

Besides the physical work, Aviva and Annie also had an opportunity to utilize their training in spiritual leadership from The Rabbinical School. “I had done a unit of pastoral care over the summer and this was very similar work. We also led a Shiur (teaching session) about Psalm 27 to enhance Selichot, which had been delayed a week due to curfew restrictions and power outages,” Aviva said.

Their work elicited consistent praise throughout the community. “They made a big impact in a short time,” said Rabbi Teller.

For Aviva and Annie, it was all in a day’s work. As Aviva summed up the experience, “The community was welcoming: everyone was happy that we were there and glad that JTS sent us to help. It made us feel really good.”