By Lee Chottiner
Jews in Louisville and elsewhere are stepping up to help the people in the tornado-ravaged region of western Kentucky.
The death toll from the tornados, which flattened several communities, causing millions of dollars in damage, now stands at 77, according to the office of Gov. Andy Beshear.
The Tornado Relief Fund, which was set up by the Jewish Federation of Louisville immediately after the disaster, has raised more than $100,000. The Federation has also identified the Kentucky Red Cross as its chief partner in the relief effort.
“We have fielded hundreds of calls from around the world asking how to help with donations and/or volunteerism,” said Stacy Gordon-Funk, senior VP and chief development officer of the Jewish Federation of Louisville. “It has been heartwarming that so many want to help. We quickly set up an online donation mailbox that was shared with Jewish Federations across North America. The core Jewish value, Areyvut, caring unconditionally for another, has been embraced by so many, including the over 600 donors and foundations who have contributed over $100,000 to the Tornado Relief Effort.”
Further, every available slot for the Dec. 16 Red Cross blood drive at the old Anshei Sfard building was filled. More blood drives are anticipated.
Women of the Federation’s Jewish Philanthropy Division worked hard this past week baking and collecting donations at the Anshei Sfard building for people in the hardest-hit areas.
Three Jewish participants – Keren Benabou, Sylvia Mond, Ronen Danino – were among a larger group, called Western Kentucky Strong, that traveled to Bremen, Muhlenberg County, to distribute clothes, food, gifts for children and desserts at a local agricultural center. The dessert table was set up with a sign that read, “BAKED WITH LOVE [from] THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF LOUISVILLE.”
Benabou said they also distributed lunches to first responders, nursing homes, halfway houses and residents who couldn’t leave their damaged homes for fear of looters. She said there was even enough food, much of which was donated by KFC and a Muhlenberg County restaurant, to be brought to Louisville for donation at a 28th Street community kitchen.
“It’s just literally people doing something nice,” she said.
Across Louisville, Jews have been loading up cars and trucks, delivering all kinds of supplies to the stricken areas.
Chabad of Kentucky was the first Jewish organization to the area, delivering $50,000 worth of bottled water, which was purchased by the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta. It is following up with truckloads of winter apparel and other necessities from its Project Friendship warehouse.
Jews from across the area have volunteered to help Chabad sort items for delivery.
“Our aid will not only be material,” Chabad Education Chair Rabbi Shmully Litvin said. “We will be a source of support and spiritual healing as well.”
Members of The Temple, including Boy Scout Troop 30, delivered items from the Sonny & Janet Meyer Food Pantry, at the Jewish Family & Career Services, to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Mayfield on Dec 18. The supplies included (among other things) food, flashlight, batteries, water, first aid supplies, clothing, blankets, toiletries, feminine hygiene and baby products.
Help has also come from the Jewish world beyond Louisville.
Israel’s Consul general to Atlanta, Anat Sultan-Dadon, visited Hopkins County on Friday, Dec. 17, delivering to the local school district 400 backpacks filled with water, snacks, games and writing materials for the children. The diplomat promised to make return trips to the region.
Teams from the Israeli non-governmental aid agency IsraAID – specialists in the field of disaster relief – are in the stricken areas to assist with the cleanup (see story, page one).
Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville, said she has received many calls from across the Jewish spectrum offering their sympathies as well as tangible assistance.
Among the organizations that have reached out are Jewish Federations of North America, JCC Association of North America and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.
Wagner also has conferred with Mindy Haas, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass (Lexington) about ways that the two federations could work together to offer help.
Likewise the JCL is talking to the Red Cross about long-term ways to stay involved in the relief effort.
“[They] really asked that we stay on the list that [they] can be reach out to after the initial fervor of people rushing into help wanes,” Wagner said, “so we can help when some of this dies down and they need more help. It’s the long game.”
Want to help?
Go to the The Tornado Relief Fund (Jewishlouisville.org/WKYDonations) where contributions are still being accepted. Those who wish to contribute in other ways can contact Stacy Gordon-Funk at firstname.lastname@example.org.