Helping Out in Houston
LCW Students Spend Two Days in Texas
By 5 a.m. on the day after Yom Kippur, eleven students from Lander College for Women—The Anne Ruth and Mark Hasten School were enroute to Texas.
The students, along with three staff members, travelled to Houston on October 1, as part of a Touro-sponsored mission to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“The trip reflects our values,” stated LCW Dean Marian Stoltz-Loike. “Our students spent two of their vacation days in Houston engaged in chesed, true generosity and kindness—assisting the Jewish community to rebuild after the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. They felt that providing assistance was a privilege and many thanked me for enabling them to help.”
Harry Ballan, Dean of Touro Law Center, secured funding for this project, because "I didn't see any option for us not to help when others are in such need. Touro's mission is not only the transmission of knowledge, but also, and at least as important, the promotion of justice and service to others, especially those in need. This defines our culture. It's who we are."
LCW student Elisheva Hay said that the mission reinforced the message of Yom Kippur for her.
“We went straight from standing in shul and talking about ideals to putting our ideals into action,” said Hay, from Columbus, Ohio. “On Yom Kippur we reflect on how we spend our time and immediately afterwards we were able to do something important and help others.”
After landing in Texas, the volunteers met with local activist Holly David, the founder of Willow Meadows Community Response Team, and Rebbetzin Rachel Yaghobian, rebbetzin of Congregation Torah Vachesed. Rebbetzin Yaghobian stressed the resilience of the Houston Jewish community.
“Her message was that at the end of the day, while the damage was extensive, what really mattered the most was that they survived,” recalled Hay.
David divided the volunteers into two groups and sent them to Jewish families whose homes suffered damage during the hurricane. One group helped a family gut a house that was too water-damaged to be salvaged.
The other group helped a family transport furniture to their new apartment. In the afternoon, the second group cleaned a house from debris and bleached the floors to prevent mold.
“It was heartbreaking,” said LCW student Zehava Kramer of Cleveland, Ohio. “We spent hours cleaning and bleaching and putting things aside for the insurance company. The homeowner said he’d probably be able to move back in a year-and-a-half and he was one of the lucky ones.”
LCW student Sarah Lacks, who grew up in Miami and saw her share of hurricanes, said even she was surprised by the extent of the damage.
“I didn’t realize how disastrous it was until we got there,” said Lacks. “You don’t think about how much water can damage something. Some homes had a foot of water and the houses had to be gutted.”
The group was graciously hosted by families from the Young Israel of Houston community.
On the second day of the trip, students organized and packed donated supplies and then distributed them from a warehouse in northeast Houston.
“People didn’t have a chance to pack anything before they had to leave,” explained Lacks. “The warehouses provided everything from socks to canned goods to toiletries and shirts.”
Volunteers also spoke with members of the community to find out what they lacked and then filled up a box of supplies for that family. Late Monday evening, after two exhausting days, the students returned to New York.
Lacks felt the mission was a Kiddush Hashem.
“People saw us in our LCW shirts and they saw us dressed modestly,” Lacks said. “We were proud to show them that we were part of a Jewish institution. It was a great experience.”
The Houston community was grateful the college students took the time to come out and help. For Hays, the reason was simple, “We came because we heard they could use extra hands.”