Local Jewish nonprofit group helps Texas rebuild during Hanukkah

Photo courtesy of Andrea Longini 
Oshman Family Jewish Community Center CEO and Los Altos resident Zack Bodner, above, back row, center, joins with other Jewish volunteers across the Bay Area to help Houston hurricane victims restore their properties. 

Los Altos resident Zack Bodner celebrated the beginning of Hanukkah away from home this year to give hurricane victims in Texas a more uplifting holiday season.

Bodner, CEO of the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (OFJCC) in Palo Alto, last week traveled to Houston with seven other Bay Area Jewish volunteers to participate in the Hanukkah for Hurricane Relief project. The four men and four women removed debris from houses hit by Hurricane Harvey in late August and early September.

Months after the devastating disaster, one of the victims they served still lives in a tent in her backyard, according to Bodner. She had to send two of her children to her mother’s home and the other two to her brother’s, he said.

“That’s the domino effect of a disaster,” Bodner said. “Rebuilding takes time. That’s why we are here.”

Bodner came up with the idea to volunteer in Houston, a plan he presented to the OFJCC’s board, members and other community organizations earlier this fall. It coincided with the founding of the OFJCC’s new Center for Social Responsibility, which consolidates all of its community service efforts under one umbrella, Bodner said.

Prior to the trip, the OFJCC conducted a community event at which nearly 100 participants made no-sew hats and scarves to be delivered to hurricane victims in Texas. Many Bay Area children made holiday cards to send with the group, said Luba Palant, the OFJCC’s director of community engagement.

“The mission of the OFJCC is to create meaningful, inclusive and joyful experiences for everyone, and to explore innovative ways to integrate Jewish tradition and values into contemporary life,” she said.

The OFJCC collaborated with another nonprofit organization, All Hands & Hearts, to help those who lost their houses in the hurricane rebuild their homes and lives.

The Hanukkah for Hurricane Relief project demonstrates some of Jewish people’s core values, Bodner noted.

“There is a very important Jewish value – called ‘tikkun olam’ in Hebrew, which means ‘repairing the world,’” he said.

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