For Jewish Families Displaced By Harvey, ‘This Is Not An Ordinary Passover’

At a synagogue in Houston, families without homes spent the holiday together at a community seder.

By Jen RiceApril 6, 2018 1:36 pm, , ,

For some Houston-area families still recovering from Harvey, marking the Jewish holiday Passover has been a struggle. Rabbi David Rosen leads the community at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, a Houston synagogue where many members have yet to return to their homes.

“This is not an ordinary Passover,” he says. “Which is something I realized back in November, when I was talking to our contractor of our own home, which flooded. And I said, ‘When will it be ready?’ And it became very clear very quickly that it wasn’t going to be ready in time for Passover. And I went back and I told my wife and I said, ‘You know what? For the first time in our 43-years marriage, we have no place to hold a Passover seder, which we have always done for all of our family.’ And I realized we had to begin planning, because there had to be hundreds of families going through the same thing. And it turned out to be true. The place they used to go for seder is not there this year.”

This isn’t the first holiday they’ve had to improvise since the storm. In September, the flood-damaged synagogue found a temporary home at Lakewood Church, which hosted the community so they could celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The synagogue is still under construction, but they were able to find space to hold a Passover seder for displaced families.

“When we looked around our sanctuary and synagogue, we realized that this sanctuary is actually our biggest room,” Rosen says. “And we just decided to take all the seats out of it, and we have room for 450.”

“As a victim, one of the many, of Hurricane Harvey, we are still in the process of repairing and replacing our home,” says Shirley Mandel, a member of the community. “I must tell you, the community really joined forces in a very positive way. And they had a group of young people from different churches who came to you, without being asked or certainly without being paid for or anything, to see what they could do. And they wound up being in my kitchen, packing up my Passover pots and pans and dishes. So I know they’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

Dan Siegman, another member of the synagogue, says he and his wife and their dogs were at home during the storm.

“We had to be rescued by boat and it was pretty scary,” he says. “It was pouring rain and it just was scary. Stuff that was important we were able to save, but everything else was a loss.”

He says he was grateful to find out that the community was holding a seder for displaced families.

“Normally we have it at our house,” he says. “Since I’ve been married, we’ve had it at our house for 30-some years now. The logistics of cooking and preparing and getting everything ready was really a challenge, so when I heard that the synagogue was doing it, I said, ‘Sign us up, we’re doing it.’”

Written by Jen Rice.

Jen Rice/Texas Standard