The day before Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana coast, Rabbi Kenny Weiss, Houston Hillel's executive director, telephoned Paige Nathan, the executive director of the Hillel Foundation of New Orleans, to offer her family and Hillel students a safe refuge at Houston Hillel.
The day after the storm, Weiss and his staff were inundated by telephone calls, instant messages and visits from Houston Hillel students eager to help hurricane victims. By the end of the day Houston Hillel had arranged a blood drive, planned to collect clothing and toiletries, and publicized Shabbat services and dinners for all students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
By the end of the week Houston Hillel welcomed 10 students and professionals from New York University's Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life who arrived in Houston to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Weiss, who spent a day volunteering at the Astrodome complex soon after the hurricane, said, "I am proud of how our students not only mobilized themselves to help those people affected by Hurricane Katrina, but also how they made the visiting students from NYU feel welcome in Houston. We have already spoken to other Hillel foundations around the country that have students interested in coming to Houston to help. Our students and staff will continue to open our doors to any students who need a place to sleep and a sympathetic ear to process their relief work during such a tremendous event."
After her first day volunteering in the Brown Convention Center, NYU student Jill Goldstein reflected at the end of an e-mail message to other NYU students: "Now is this time, if there ever was, to put words into actions. No action is too little. This really is an instance where every smile counts. Have hope, share it and work hard towards it becoming a reality. I could write for three more hours and still never say what I want to say, and I don't even quite know what I want to say. Seeing with your own eyes is powerful, but doing with your own hands - that is a life changing experience."
Weiss expects that his students will continue to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina throughout the academic year, if not longer. Plans are already underway for a Houston Hillel alternative break trip to New Orleans to help rebuild the city. Anyone interested in learning more about Houston Hillel and its efforts to facilitate visits from students of other Hillel foundations can call Weiss at 713-526-4918.