Nashville’s Jewish Community: Ready to Rebuild

Severe flooding in Nashville, TN. and neighboring states claimed 30 lives, uprooted many people from their homes, and caused more than $1 billion in damage. Steven J. Edelstein, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville & Middle Tennessee, has helped keep the Federation movement informed about the Federation’s efforts to help both the local Jewish community and the region recover.

Here is Edelstein’s May 24 report on the relief work. Meanwhile, to contribute to the recovery of the Jewish community in Tennessee, please click here.

[by Steven J. Edelstein, Executive Director]
Jewish Federation of Nashville & Middle Tennessee

Chevre, I know there are those among you who have lived through a natural disaster, and until now I held off on talking personally about these past two weeks, because there are so many whose experiences have been tragic, and mine has not. But here is my experience during the flood and its aftermath.

On the Saturday morning of the flood there was a tornado warning and what they call a “rotation” five miles west of our house. Elaine and I spent about 15 minutes in our “safe place” with our bicycle helmets on. It then rained non-stop for two days. In some parts of Middle Tennessee it rained 12 inches or more.

The Harpeth is not one of America’s great rivers. It runs about a quarter of a mile from my house. Usually 200 or so feet across, someone told me at the height of the deluge it grew to 2900 feet wide. I saw it and believe it.

We live three houses away from where the flood stopped. I and about 10 neighbors were watching as several boats were evacuating others, bringing them in our direction, where they stepped off onto a chair on dry land. Several showed up without their shoes. One older couple was in a boat that capsized. People swam to them and another boat went over to pick them up. They stayed with Elaine and me Sunday night. I gave a woman matches for her cigarettes. I gave a man a pair of my shoes and socks.

I tried to get out of the subdivision and a policeman told me “Welcome to the Island.” We were stranded until Monday afternoon: no phone, no power, and for many no cell phone.

When I got to the Gordon JCC there was a buzz of activity. A department head, Harry Baker, had already set up a Red Cross shelter, which in time housed 200 people. The GJCC and JFS were already checking in with members and clients. I helped with coordination and then eventually communications both internal to the community and with the rest of the Jewish world. The real heroes are JFS and the GJCC, the Center having been a food and clothing distribution point that served hundreds.

We now have 47 families who had substantial to catastrophic damage. Two had flood insurance. We have spent nearly $50,000 on Phase I, getting money into the hands of victims (we gave $700 each to 87 individuals in severe need of immediate support); and we are now embarking on Phase II, an assessment of loans and grants. Over $127,000 in donations have been made to us, and additional amounts have come to local congregations from their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

The Jewish Federations of North America has been instrumental in our fund-raising efforts, and our fellow Federations have donated $59,000 – the remaining $68,000 has come from hundreds of individuals in our region and across the U.S. and Canada.

Nechama, the Jewish response to disaster, is here and has plenty of work to do; but their advance man was surprised that so much work had been done already … that many homes were almost ready to rebuild.

I am sure there are many outstanding examples of people pitching in after every disaster, but this is Tennessee, and there is something very special about the Volunteer spirit.

I have heard the Flood of 2010 described as the greatest natural disaster since Katrina. Despite somewhat scant national publicity, I believe that to be true. I see it in the extensiveness of the damage, now estimated at over $1.5 billion. Our lives have changed.

Ninety percent of our news broadcasts are flood-related. Our traffic patterns are disrupted because roads are still closed. Our water was rationed, and we are still being asked to be vigilant. Our parks and greenways have been closed. But this town will rebuild, and our many of our music attractions have already reopened.

I thank all of you for your concern.

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