By Faygie Levy Holt
August 29–Almost as soon as the half-foot of water receded from the Bellaire home of Rabbi Yossi and Mrs. Esty Zaklikofsky and it began to drain from the surrounding street, there were knocks on the family’s door. Neighbors came by to help clear away any damaged plasterboard and carpeting from their home.
“People from all backgrounds, everyone was just knocking on our door offering to help,” says Rabbi Zaklikofsky, co-director with his wife of the Shul of Bellaire. “They spent hours here. It was an incredible display of human kindness. As soon as people heard about it through a neighborhood group text, they were here.”
What made it even more special, the rabbi tells Chabad.org, was that he hadn’t even met many of the volunteers before. “I was speechless,” he admits. “I just expressed my gratitude to them for responding at a moment’s notice to a stranger. One of our friends spent seven hours here spearheading the whole effort.”
Neighbor helping neighbor has been the rule since the rains began falling in earnest last Saturday, and the calls for help have been increasing daily. On Tuesday, a pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston and a levee in a suburban subdivision began overflowing, adding to the rising floodwaters from Harvey that have crippled the area after five consecutive days of rain. At least ten people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced. Officials have no real idea of when the life-threatening danger will end, when recovery will begin, or how long it will take.
For now, with the official rescue channels inundated with emergency calls, some took matters into their own hands, taking boats through flooded water to rescue those in need. Others opened their dry homes to friends and neighbors who were not as lucky.
“For our home, personally, we are picking up the pieces and figuring out what to do next,” says Zaklikofsky. “At the same time there are areas of Houston that are just beginning to flood, which puts thousands of more homes on a path to [potential] destruction. Our hearts go out to them and we pray to Gâ€‘d that this comes to an end as soon as possible so people are out of the path of danger.”
Among those who are now bracing to see what happens in their home are Rabbi Mendel Feigenson and his wife, Chaya, co-directors of Chabad of Sugar Land, and three of their children. The Oyster Creek, which abuts his backyard, is rising and nearly over its banks.
“We are on the second floor and watching it very closely,” he says. “If the water starts rising, we are going to have to leave. On the one hand, they tell us to evacuate, but the roads are flooded so we don’t have access to go anywhere. We are in the hands of Hashem.”
Feigenson is in constant contact with his neighbors and reports that many are in similar situations. “Everyone is scared and worried,” he says. “We encourage each other and people are just trying to ride out the storm.”
Yesterday, as the Brazos River, which feeds local tributaries in Sugar Land, began flooding, Feigenson made the decision to take the Torah scrolls out of the one-story Chabad House nearby and move them into the second floor of his home, which is where he and his children are staying. (His wife, who was in Israel and slated to return yesterday, is stuck in New York as there are no flights into Houston right now.)
“We are saying Psalms and praying,” says the rabbi. “We know that Gâ€‘d is with us and it is my job to keep [my family] calm.”
Feigenson goes on to say, “This is one of the worst disasters, and it’s a big mitzvah to help the community get back together any way people can. People have lost their homes.”
Adds Zaklikofsky, “All help will be needed because the entire city has been devastated.”
To that end, the Chabad Houses from across the Houston area have banded together to organize and coordinate relief efforts. Among the tasks they are working on is coordinating volunteers from both within the Houston community and beyond the Texas border.
“People have already expressed an interest in coming to Houston,” says Zaklikofsky. “It’s an amazing display of humanity and ahavat Yisrael, unconditional love of a fellow Jew.”
Other Chabad emissaries are tasked with matching families that need a place to stay with people who have offered to open their homes. The Chabad emissaries are also working on setting up both a kosher food pantry and supply pantry as soon as possible.
“Trucks of kosher food have been put in place to come here from out of state,” reports Zaklikofsky. “And we are gathering donations from anyone in the community who has supplies they want to donate, whether it’s canned food or cleaning supplies. At the same time, the Chabad Relief Fund will go out and purchase many supplies to be available as the [monetary] donations come in.”
To assist in the effort, you can donate to the hurricane-relief fund at www.chabad.org/special/campaigns/hurricane_2016/donate.htm. (Chabad.org)