Updates on Federations' Response to Natural Disasters [9/28]



On Thursday, September 28, Jerry Silverman, President and CEO, Jewish Federations of North America, released the following statement providing the latest update regarding Federations' continued response to recent natural disasters.

As we head into Yom Kippur, we still have five weeks of hurricane season ahead. I think we can all share the profound hope that the next five weeks will be less disastrous than the last five. Attached HERE is an important update on JFNA’s extensive work in emergency response prepared by JFNA Executive Vice President, Mark Gurvis, who has led our efforts these past five weeks. It not only provides a summary of the challenges and responses, but also outlines the significant priority and policy issues that have surfaced as a result of this hard season. I want to urge you see this as a call to action.

We need to raise more funds – There are overwhelming needs in Houston where the scope of damage to individual homes and communal institutions poses serious risk to an entire community’s stability and sustainability. The more recent hurricanes have left whole island communities already suffering from abject poverty, mired in a desperate battle to meet the most basic needs. We have existential Jewish communal and human issues to address. We urge you to help us meet both these challenges: raise more funds to help Houston recover, and help both Jews and non-Jews in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.  


The Unetaneh Tokef prayer at the heart of the High Holiday service reads:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague …

It also reads that Tzedakah is one of the three things that lessens the decree. This is our holy calling. Now is the time to lead our communities in responding to the overwhelming needs that have hit us these past five weeks.



On Tuesday, September 20, Mark Gurvis, Executive Vice President, Jewish Federations of North America, released the following statement providing an update regarding Federations' continued response to natural disasters. 

Dear Colleagues:

We head into the new Jewish year – 5778 – beset by a series of natural disasters that are taking their toll on millions of people. Hurricane Maria is pounding the Caribbean Islands as Jose is creating flooding in the Northeast. We are still tracking damage from Irma’s wide path across Florida into neighboring states, while Houston has barely started on its gargantuan journey of recovery from Harvey. Two massive earthquakes in Mexico round out the picture. All this in the space of less than four weeks. A team of JFNA staff will be on call and available to the affected communities through the Rosh Hashanah holiday as needed.

JFNA’s Emergency Committee has met three times since the onset of Hurricane Harvey and will continue meeting actively over the weeks to come.

The response across our system has been terrific. But it is clear that significantly greater resources will be needed to address the scope of needs across all the affected areas and we will be challenged to get you detailed information quickly on everything. After a disaster, it takes time to build the detailed analysis of needs, but we must be positioned to respond quickly now on many fronts. 

Following are a series of updates:


Hurricane Harvey –Through the combined efforts of JFNA and the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, a total of $14.M has been committed as of September 19, 2017. This includes $5.8M raised in Houston, $5M from Federations across North America, $2.2M from national Jewish foundations, and $1M from the Government of Israel. 

Hurricane Irma – The response across the system has been much more muted – a consequence of the timing right on the heels of Harvey. As of yesterday, we had a total of $205,000 committed, either to the national donation site or allocations from communities.

Specific Responses to Disasters

Hurricane Maria

JFNA’s Emergency Committee and Network staff are closely tracking the trajectory and impact of the storm on the Caribbean Islands. In particular:

St. Thomas – US Virgin Islands – yesterday, JFNA was able to procure 200 generators and is making arrangements to ship them to the Hebrew Congregation in St. Thomas as soon as possible. We are working on additional supplies urgently needed by the community.

Puerto Rico – JFNA staff has been in regular contact with the synagogues in Puerto Rico heading into the storm and will assess and respond to their needs as soon as contact resumes.

Non-US locales – our partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working to respond to the needs in other Caribbean nations affected by the various hurricanes and is increasing their efforts in the wake of this latest storm. IsraAid is currently positioned in Haiti and prepared to deploy after the storm.

Mexico Earthquakes

IsraAid and the Israel Defense Forces are deploying to Mexico to provide immediate assistance in the wake of yesterday’s devastating earthquake, the second massive earthquake to hit Mexico in two weeks. The IsraAid team is deploying alongside an IDF delegation of 70 soldiers and officers. 

The JDC is working in partnership with Cadena, Mexico, a local NGO, to provide assistance, as well. JDC is opening an emergency fund for the Mexico situation.

Rina Goldberg in JFNA’s Israel office is the point of information on Mexico.

Hurricane Jose

This hurricane grazed the northeast coast. While there have been reports of some coastal flooding, we are not yet aware of any specific impacts on Jewish communities.

Hurricane Harvey

JFNA’s Emergency Committee approved grants this past week to the small communities in Beaumont/Port Arthur and Galveston to assist local families affected by the hurricane. Intensive work continues with Houston to help the community mobilize a comprehensive response to their needs, estimated in the $30M range.

CLICK HERE to read JFNA's Hurricane Emergency Response brief and CLICK HERE to learn about Hurricane Harvey's allocations and how your donation helped those in need!