Jewish Herald Voice
When Category 4 Hurricane Ida recently wreaked havoc on New Orleans, power, basic supplies and patience quickly grew scarce.
Having seen firsthand how hurricanes can affect a city, several Houston Jewish community members sprang into action.
At 2 a.m., Sept. 3, a large truck carrying 550 gallons of fuel arrived in the Crescent City, courtesy of Chabad of Texas.
A free distribution was set up by sunrise and more than 100 New Orleans residents were able to get much-needed fuel for generators and vehicles.
“The lack of power resulted in pretty much a total shutdown of the city, with no access to basic needs,” Chabad of Louisiana Rabbi Mendel Rivkin told the JHV.
“In the heat with no air conditioning, there is a big run on generators and fuel, but there is no gas station access. It became a very glaring need in a hurry.”
Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of the Chabad Lubavitch Center, Texas Regional Headquarters, contacted Rabbi Rivkin and others in New Orleans to see what they could do to help.
Rabbi Lazaroff then reached out to his network in Houston and a plan was set into motion.
Houstonian Pinny Bard-Wigdor was one of the key volunteers who coordinated the acquisition and delivery of the fuel. Finding the fuel and a method of delivery was not an easy task, however.
“Honestly, I didn’t think we would be able to do it because of the magnitude of the situation over there,” Bard-Wigdor told the JHV. “Also, companies were wanting outrageous amounts of money to do it.
“I spent a whole day calling companies as far away as California to see if we could make it happen. I was persistent and kept putting different pieces of the puzzle together. Thank G-d, we were able to pull through for the community. We made sure they weren’t left alone and made it happen for them.”
Hurricane Ida was not Bard-Wigdor’s first experience in hurricane relief.
A New York native, Bard-Wigdor moved to Houston the week of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and helped coordinate getting 18 truckloads of supplies delivered from New York.
“We have to be there for each other, especially in times of disasters,” he said.
After receiving the shipment, Chabad of New Orleans set up a free distribution starting at 8 the next morning, available to anyone and everyone in need.
“We had a mass distribution line and a whole bunch of people were able to take advantage. We had it open for two to three hours and we had a steady strand of people.
“Word got out and if people showed up and they were in need, we gave it to them. No questions asked. It gave people some relief for a day or two.”
Rabbi Rivkin credited Chabad’s network for springing into action quickly.
“The network is powerful,” Rabbi Rivkin said. “Different organizations have different structures, and each structure has its advantage at times. Chabad happens to have a very nimble structure and it allows us to be nifty in responding to situations like this, making it very effective during an actual crisis. In the moment, the ability to be nimble allows us to help people in a quick way.”
Three days later, Chabad of New Orleans hosted about 65-70 people for Rosh Hashanah.
“I think we were the only services available in the New Orleans area,” Rabbi Rivkin said. “Many of our people had evacuated, but we had a lot of other people who had nowhere else to go. Thanks to some generous supporters, we were able to feed them all.”
It was a nice moment after a tough week that was aided by a neighboring city.
“We are very grateful to our neighbors,” Rabbi Rivkin said. “We are old friends with the Houston Chabad community. They literally took us in during Hurricane Katrina. So, we have a relationship that goes back a while in hurricane relief. This time was no different. They took initiative and it was amazing.”