Fall is in the air. A season of uncertainty. Unpredictable weather toys with summer’s swan song and winter’s hesitance to obscure our skies. Cold winds blow a mixture of leaves from where they lie on the ground like a wild, confused paint palette.
During the summer of 2017, the world witnessed an overwhelming number of weather-related natural disasters. These extreme floods, storms, mudslides and landslides caused deaths, mass destruction, displacement and permanent damage to buildings, agriculture and water infrastructure.
Climate is Mother Nature’s playground. A tumultuous playground, showcasing her powers and offering very little mercy.
Between wide-spread monsoons, flooding in South Asia, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean Islands and Southern Florida, Mexico’s earthquakes, California’s wildfires and most recently Europe’s Hurricane Ophelia, it seems as if nature is revolting against humans—those doubting global warming and those taking our world for granted, neglecting to appreciate its fragile existence.
And as if Mother Nature needed backup, humans were only too willing to lend a hand. Vicious acts of crime and terror scarred Las Vegas’s lively strip, and Barcelona’s most famous market, disrupted concerts and streets in the United Kingdom, and wreaked havoc and hatred worldwide.
All of a sudden, and for reasons we haven’t wished for, our small Israel seems to be the safest place on earth. Following the world shaking from a distance makes us appreciate our stability.
As in past disasters, Israel isn’t only sighing with sympathy. We have been ready for action—through both government aid and privately through different initiatives, reaching out to help.
One of these non-profit, non-governmental initiatives is IsraAID. For 15 years, IsraAID has been helping people all over the world overcome extreme crises and has provided millions with the vital support needed to move from destruction to reconstruction, and eventually, to sustainable living. These people in need include victims of the horrors in Syria, a country hostile to Israel, with growing numbers of innocent refugees fleeing the country, escaping death.
In Houston, the IsraAID team of psychosocial professionals provided urgent psychological and emotional support to individuals and families in shelters. Specialist and volunteers cleaned, evacuated and salvaged furniture from homes affected by the flooding. Local volunteers joined IsraAID, including Yazidi refugees that not long ago fled Islamist militants in Iraq, now living in the Meyerland area of Houston.
One of IsraAID’s emergency response teams in Houston arrived at the house of Mike, who is disabled, and unfortunately, was not insured against flood damage. He built his home 40 years ago, and raised his four children there. Sadly, Mike’s second wife passed away just a month before Hurricane Harvey hit. On the first morning of the cleanup, Mike told the team how grateful he was for their help, and for coming to assist him all the way from Israel…especially on his 68th birthday! On hearing this news, the team decided to help mark his special day. They managed to organize a gift, and at the end of the day, following considerable cleanup progress on the house, sang a loud, collective rendition of “Happy Birthday” in English and Hebrew! Mike was speechless; through his tears he shared how moved he was to be able to celebrate after such traumatic events in his life.
In Mexico, IsraAID’s emergency response teams provided rapid, essential aid on the ground, such as medical care, psychosocial support, search and rescue services, distributed of essential everyday items and water hygiene solutions.
This coming January, JCC Association of North America’s board members, alongside JCC shlichim (Israeli emissaries), and their supervisors will join the Houston JCC for a day of J-Cares where we will all roll up our sleeves and join IsraAID and other local volunteer initiatives in restoring the hurting community of Houston.
Tikkun olam—repairing the world—defines us. It illuminates our souls and is the purpose of our existence. It is our might. When Mother Nature’s forces meet human strength, they are no match. Eventually we overcome disasters with compassion, care and mutual responsibility.
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center