We have a very strong and cohesive community in Miami — very blessed. When situations like Irma arise, our community rises to the occasion to help each other. Keeping tabs, offering shelter and making sure we come out on the other side even more viable than before. We are entering the New Year with a greater understanding of how it’s important to be as one rather than allowing unnecessary divisions to take hold.

— Amy Dean (WHP Alum, Miami, and Chair of The Greater Miami Jewish Federation)


Finally settled in Gainesville. These last 48 hrs have been challenging to say the least. In the 19 years that we have lived in Miami Beach, this is the first time ever that we are faced with something of this magnitude. After watching the footage from Houston, and then learning that we are facing a nine-foot water surge, it makes me so sad to know that so many people will lose everything they have. Yesterday we prepped the house —  you can only do so much because, unless you live in Noah’s Ark, there is absolutely nothing you can do to protect your house from imminent flooding. And if that’s not enough, to learn that while I am running away from this monster, there was a massive earthquake in Mexico (my home country). The breaking point came last night when I had to pack, and according to the hurricane preparedness booklet, I’m supposed to bring something special like family pictures or whatever object I hold dear. All these objects that we hold so dear, in a matter of seconds you realize that the memories are inside of us and not sitting on a shelf. You realize that for the most part you hardly ever notice them in your daily life. And when it came to packing my clothes (I am afraid to open my bag right now) and seeing what I put in there last night, I seriously can’t remember. What do you pack for something like this? Do you pack only for the duration of my airbnb reservation? Four Days? What if I can’t go back to my house for a week? For two weeks? For a month? What if there is no more house?

How ironic and inappropriate and yet real that people are calling us refugees. And I think of the Jewish experience in our wandering history and then, of course, holidays come to mind as well. 

  • Pesach: the Exodus. Pack up and leave.
  • Unetanah Tokef (“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 by water and who by fire…who by earthquake and who by plague, who shall have rest and who wander, who shall be at peace and who pursued, who shall be serene and who tormented, who shall become impoverished and who wealthy…” it takes on a new resonance.
  • Sukkot: our temporary dwellings, physical and spiritual, and the fragility and resilience of our lives.

It has been humbling and it is scary. It brings feelings of uncertainty but also feelings of gratitude to see all the love from all my family and friends who have been sending messages and calling from all over the world.

May we see days of balance in our planet, days of harmony and of peace, days of blessings for health and of life!

Love you all.

Mytyl Simancas (WHP Alum, Miami 11)

Miami’s a mess but I assume most of us have scattered and are safe. We fled to NY with difficulty. Lots of stress shopping! There is a huge amount of flooding, downed trees, no power and it’ll take the city awhile to get back to normal. Thank G-d, it’s behind us.

— Gail Meyers (WHP Alum, Miami)


We also want to provide updates from Houston as a reminder of the work that must take place to rebuild in their Jewish community.

Dear Alumni Chevre,

We’re writing to you from Houston, where the sense of shock is still very real, even as we have begun the slow and painful process of assessing the damage and meeting the most urgent needs of our devastated community. Unlike prior natural disasters here, this time everyone is affected in some way.  More than 70% of the Jewish community lives in parts of the city that experienced severe flooding – including nearly 12,000 Jewish elderly. The damage is extreme and the need is great. Major Houston Jewish institutions have suffered extensive flood damage, including:

  • Congregation Beth Israel
  • Congregation Beth Yeshurun and Beth Yeshurun Day School
  • Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center and ERJCC Merfish Teen Center
  • Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Services
  • United Orthodox Synagogues

The three impacted congregations combined serve more than 4,000 families and an early estimate shows more than 1,000 of their members’ homes had significant flood damage. We expect this number to increase.

Congregation Beth Yeshurun, the largest Conservative synagogue in the country, and its day school had never previously flooded but took on two to three feet of water during Hurricane Harvey. Seven Acres houses the largest Alzheimer’s unit in the country, and experienced complete flooding in its first floor. Residents had to be moved and a quarter-mile of flooring will need to be restored. 

Daily life for the foreseeable future will involve the hard work of cleaning mud from our homes; removing furniture; ripping out drywall; and taking to the curb so many items that we’ve lost — photos, files, books and letters.  What we’re experiencing is more than simply an interruption in our day-to-day routines.  We are dealing with exhaustion, uncertainty, stress and sadness. No one knows how long it will take to rebuild — or exactly what the rebuilding will look like.

Right now, our focus is directed to the most urgent needs, which is why we’re writing to ask for your support.  If your local Federation has setup a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, please make a contribution today. Every dollar donated will directly benefit those in need.

Rabbi Herb Friedman (of blessed memory), taught that ‘in order to raise money, one must first raise people.’  We are the leaders among leaders – those who set the example and model the greatest value of all – human kindness.

Rosh Hashanah is just two weeks away.  Imagine celebrating under these circumstances in Houston?  Your support brings hope and resilience to our community.  It gives us the strength to keep moving forward.             

Click here to donate, and thank you for your concern.

May all of us be inscribed for life and blessing in the New Year ahead.   


—Joe Williams (WHP Alum, Houston)

—Elyse Kalmans (WHP Alum, Houston 06)

—Joe Kaplan (WHP Alum, Houston)

Joe Kornfeld (WHP Alum, Houston)

The three Joe’s and Elyse have stepped up to lead the Disaster Response Action Team (DRAT) at the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.