In early October, Rabbi Moshe Givental traveled with The Well to Houston, where a group of eight young adults participated in post Hurricane Harvey relief work alongside Repair the World, a national service organization, Act Now Houston, a Jewish response to the hurricane, and SBP, a disaster relief organization. Below are his reflections on the trip. You can also follow him at www.MosheGivental.com and www.facebook.com/RabbiMosheG.
“Houston and the World Stand on 3 Things”
I joined the Houston Service Trip, aimed to rebuild after the floods of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, just a few days before we were set to go. Excited, but not completely prepared, it has left a deep impact on me. Each of our days combined some good hard work, fun, great food, and deep learning.
The work on the house we were helping to rebuild was hard and sweaty amidst the Houston humidity. However, it was filled with great conversation, and the time flew by. Seeing the entire house’s drywall “mudded” over at the end and therefore ready to be sanded and then painted, gave me a great sense of satisfaction. I think my grandfather, who built houses and bridges for a living, would have been proud!
All of this was framed with really excellent learning organized by Avery and folks at Repair the World in Houston. We learned that Hurricane Harvey was the not an isolated incident, but the third storm to cause major flooding in greater Houston for a third year in a row. It left $125 billion in damages, with 8.9 million people’s homes flooded. We discussed how climate change exacerbates the severity and frequency of major storms, and the painful reality that people with the least financial resources and people of color often live in the most flood vulnerable areas and have the hardest time securing aid from FEMA and other government agencies when trying to rebuild. The learning challenged us to think deeper about our response-abilities in the midst of these continuing tragedies. In between the hard work and learning, we had time for great food, music, and going out on our own.
On our last day of the trip, we toured Meyerland, the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Houston, with a volunteer community member. We had in depth conversations with JCC and Federation staff, learning about how their community has been not only recovering, but growing closer, more creative, and more resilient, in response to the floods. I am walking away from this trip with a renewed sense of understanding of a 1,750 year old Jewish teaching from Pirkey Avot, 1:2, which reads, “The World Stands on three things… Torah (wisdom), Avodah (prayer), and Gemilut Hassadim (acts of loving-kindness).” I will leave you with the following interpretation applied to disasters:
The world stands on three things,
- Torah: A deep study of what our Tradition, and recent experience, teaches us about how we can best analyze and respond to disasters which are both natural in their physical cause, as well as human-made in terms of which communities are left most vulnerable, and what government does or does not do to take preventative measures.
- Avodah: The prayerful work of physically showing up to help, to see with our own eyes what has happened, to meet with our own hearts the people who have been hurt, and to listen with our own ears what they most need in order to thrive. (Avodah can mean both work and prayer.)
- Gemilut Hassadim: Allowing our hearts to overflow with compassion and therefore give. We heard innumerable stories about neighbors and strangers reaching out to save each other from the rising waters and were awed by how disasters are both harrowing, and can bring out the best in humanity. So, for all of us physically safe and not in physical proximity of disaster, Gemilut Hassadim is giving in the best ways we are able – with money, with creativity, and with any other resources at our disposal. It is letting our giving overflow.