A Reform Movement Update: Looking Back at Hurricane Harvey & Forward to Hurricane Irma

Inside Leadership

A Reform Movement Update: Looking Back at Hurricane Harvey & Forward to Hurricane Irma

Palm trees bending against strong winds as ocean water laps against them in a storm

As this week comes to a close and we prepare to welcome Shabbat, we’d like to share an update on the Reform Movement’s work in responding to Hurricane Harvey. Now also focusing on Hurricane Irma, we’re fully mobilized to assist our congregations and community in its path. 

Hurricane Harvey Houston Day Camp Ends 

Yesterday was the last day of the Hurricane Harvey Houston Day Camp, run by URJ Greene Family Camp in partnership with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, at Congregation Emanu El. The camp provided much-needed childcare for families who were putting their lives back together after the flooding. As students in Houston prepare to return to school on Monday, the team at Greene Family Camp is exploring how to continue to best serve Houston and other communities impacted by the storm. 

Emanu El’s Senior Rabbi Oren Hayon and Greene Family Camp Director Loui Dobin shared this video reporting on the day camp, and the Dallas Morning News captured what the camp meant to Houston families: “One mom told camp organizers in an email after the first day that her kids said they had the ‘best day EVER!’” Another woman wrote, “This was especially meaningful as my husband and I had one of the worst days ever.” 

Congregations Express Gratitude 

Our congregations in the affected areas have asked us to convey their deep appreciation for the support they are receiving from across North America. Bruce Levy, president of Congregation Beth Israel, put it this way: 

“You have no idea how important it is to arrive at someone’s door with an offer of help. We’ve identified, first, the 70 members who need the most help and have been giving them gift cards and a mezuzah. That they know that those cards are coming from all over the Movement is an added gift.” 

Extent of Damage Becomes Clearer 

Even as the waters recede, it has become painfully clear that it will take months and years, not days and weeks, to truly respond to Hurricane Harvey. The damage is so widespread, and so extreme, that Houston and other impacted areas may never be the same. 

We are committed to supporting Reform congregations, their congregants, and the broader community as they begin to find their way in a changed landscape. If you would like to donate gift cards to the affected congregations in the Southeast Texas area you can find a list here. Congregations continue to report that gift cards are the easiest way for them to support their communities. 

Keeping an Eye on Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, expected to make landfall in Florida in the next 36 hours, is one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. All indications are that the damage will be catastrophic, as it has been in the Caribbean already. 

We are in ongoing communication with our congregations in Irma’s expected path, and stand ready to help in any way we can. If you have information to share with us about how Irma is affecting your congregation, please email IrmaResponse@urj.org so that the appropriate people on our team are able to respond quickly. 

For ongoing updates, please follow the URJ on Facebook and Twitter and consult the #HurricaneIrma topic tag in The Tent


This coming Shabbat we will read Parashah Nitzavim, and its eternal challenge: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life – if you and your offspring would live – by loving the Eternal your God…” (Deuteronomy 30:19).   

This has indeed been a week in which we have seen life and all too much death. We have felt the curse of Hurricane Harvey, and the blessing of seeing our community, and our nation, unite in support of its victims. We are taking our lead from the remarkable leaders of our Houston congregations, who are very much focusing on the blessings they have seen this week. 

We know you join us in praying for all those who are in harm’s way as Hurricane Irma makes its approach. We will be in touch again as Irma’s impact becomes clearer. 

If you’re displaced by storms this Shabbat, find a congregation near you or watch livestreaming services online.

Mark J. Pelavin is the chief program officer of the Union for Reform Judaism. Amy Asin is the vice president/director of Strengthening Congregations. 

Have something to say about this post? Join the conversation in The Tent, the social network for congregational leaders of the Reform Movement. You can also tweet us or tell us how you feel on Facebook.

Mark Pelavin is the chief program officer and director of the Biennial at the Union for Reform Judaism.

Mark J. Pelavin

Published: 9/08/2017

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