In role reversal, Israel looks to send $1M in aid to Houston Jews

A street is covered with water after being inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Tex., Aug. 27, 2017. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A street is covered with water after being inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Tex., Aug. 27, 2017. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry is advancing a plan to send $1 million US in emergency aid to Houston’s flood-hit Jewish community.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett announced the plan Monday, calling it “unprecedented.” His office said the money would go toward repairing and rebuilding local schools, synagogues and Jewish community centres damaged by tropical storm Harvey.

“The Jewish State is measured by its response when our brothers around the world are in crisis,” Bennett said in a statement. “For years the Jewish communities stood by Israel when it needed their help; now it is our turn to stand by Houston’s Jewish community.”

Bennett said the plan would be finalized in “the next few days” and presented for cabinet approval first thing next week. The money would be transferred through Israel’s consulate in Houston.

“From talks we’ve had over the past week with the heads of the community and Israel’s consul-general we learned the damage is vast, and the rehabilitation will take years,” Bennett said.

Harvey, which made landfall in southeast Texas 10 days ago, caused massive flooding in Houston and small surrounding towns, killing dozens of people and displacing tens of thousands.

Houston’s Jewish community was particularly hard hit. The local Jewish federation last week said 71 per cent of the city’s more than 60,000 Jews, including 12,000 seniors, live in areas that were flooded. Some of their houses were submerged in as much as eight feet of water, she said. The local Jewish Family Service said dozens of Jewish families were either evacuated or moved to the second floors of their homes due to flooding.

The Evelyn Rubinstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, the city’s only JCC, was flooded with 10 feet of water, and Jewish schools remain closed, with some experiencing major flooding.

Israeli groups last week joined local Jewish institutions on the ground. The Israeli humanitarian group IsrAID rushed to Texas to provide supplies, remove debris and lead stress relief and recreational activities. United Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency service, sent its psychological first aid unit.

According to a recent report issued by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, American Jews give well over $2 billion to Israel every year, accounting for 9 percent of donations to the Jewish state. They contribute about another $12 billion through investments, exports and tourism, the report said. The U.S. government provides Israel $3 billion in military assistance every year.

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