NEW YORK – About a week after Hurricane Harvey flooded his home, Andran Penn – a Christian resident of Houston – finally returned to his premises only to find total devastation, or so he thought. To his surprise, one thing remained untouched by the water: his library of Jewish texts.
The books, which included interlinear Hebrew and English study texts as well as Bibles, were found completely dry by a ZAKA search and rescue team, which has been participating in clean-up efforts in Texas, serving the Jewish and Christian communities hit hardest by the storm.
“All my secular books were destroyed, but the pages of these books are still dry, still usable and without any mold,” he told rescuers on the ground.
Penn got the books in order to better understand the Jewish people, to seek “cohesion between Jewish and Christian communities.”
The ZAKA team was sent to Penn’s house upon the request of his pastor Becky Keenan from the Gulf Meadows Church in Houston.
The organization’s chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said he is proud of the volunteers’ work.
“Our sages tell us that God created man in his image. Not just Jews, but all men,” he said. “ZAKA is a humanitarian organization that provides assistance, regardless of race, religion or gender.”
Several Israeli and Jewish groups have been assisting communities in Texas in the aftermath of the hurricane.
A Jewish Agency aid mission composed of emissaries posted on college campuses across the US has also arrived in Houston this week to help local residents vacate flooded or abandoned homes and salvage whatever belongings can be saved.
“We are seeing some very difficult scenes,” said Tali Lipschitz, who is leading the aid mission.
“The damage is widespread and we are working hard to help however we can.”
Lipschitz and the team will also be running educational programming for Jewish children sent to day camps due to school closures and neighborhood evacuations. In addition, they will help evaluate the damage to local communal institutions to enable the Jewish Agency to prepare a long-term financial aid package to assist in the community’s recovery.
Earlier this week, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett pledged $1 million in relief aid for the Houston Jewish community.
“The Jewish state is measured by its response when our brothers around the world are in crisis,” he said.
The aid will be transferred through the Israeli Consulate in Texas, and will be used to help repair and restore the communal infrastructure – schools, synagogues and JCC – which are not funded or supported by the state.