Two verses from Leviticus can be seen on a tractor-trailer that sits in the front yard of Temple Israel Ner Tamid in Mayfield Heights. Both explain why Rabbi Matt Eisenberg has asked his congregation to donate to victims of Hurricane Harvey: “Do not stand idly by as your neighbor bleeds” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“When you see someone who is in a difficult time or suffering, what we’re called to do as Jews and as people is to help,” he said. “These two verses are very important for us.”
The idea to use a tractor-trailer in a relief effort started when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and has transformed into a tradition for the temple. After Hurricane Harvey devastated the southern region of Texas, the temple decided to rent a 53-foot tractor-trailer with a goal to fill it with new items like toilet paper, socks, underwear, sunscreen and bug spray among other necessary items.
“There’s never an end to the need,” Eisenberg said. “The first place that was hit was south Texas and that’s why we’re going there.”
The tractor-trailer arrived Sept. 20 and has been parked on the front lawn of the temple on Lander Road, where volunteers have been sorting through and boxing donated items, but the truck is not filling as quickly as the previous fundraiser.
Peter Freimark, who organized the temple’s Hurricane Katrina response, said there’s a lot of “donor fatigue” from drives and fundraisers for hurricane relief efforts, which has exhausted those who would donate.
“People aren’t seeing (the damages) in front of them,” said Freimark, who lives in Russell Township.
Once news of Hurricane Irma hit Florida, Eisenberg said people forgot about the devastation in Texas.
“I think in some ways people have become a little bit numb to all of the suffering of other people,” he said. “We’re trying to utz (Yiddish for poke) them and actually utz ourselves a little bit because I can get numb to things, too . . .
We’re not asking them to solve the whole problem themselves, we’re just asking people to participate little by little just to help.”
The suffering caused by the hurricane strikes close to home for Eisenberg. He served at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston during the early 1990s and the temple was hit by the storm and sustained damage.
“They had 3 feet of water in their sanctuary, that whole neighborhood area where there are all these houses and apartments, they also have 2 to 3 feet of water,” he said.
Before the truck can be sent to Texas, Eisenberg said they need to find a large, flat location where the truck can easily be unloaded, which is becoming more of a challenge than originally thought.
“We heard there is a tremendous need in Houston and south Texas,” he said. “A couple of the places we’ve called said, ‘We’re full up with things.’ So, we’re calling other places in south Texas.”
Eisenberg said plenty of options exist and he is making calls to find where the goods are most needed.