Dallas Jewish community bands together to weather deadly storm
Texans face a brutal winter storm that freezes devices in power plants across the country and disconnects millions of people across the state. Residents are struggling to stay warm in an area of the country colder than parts of Alaska this week.
“Everything comes in threes,” Mariam Shpeen Feist, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, told Jewish Insider on Tuesday afternoon. First, she stated that it was a 2019 tornado that destroyed the building and homes of the Federation of members of the Jewish community. Six months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country’s economy and infrastructure. Now the cold has arrived.
Despite freezing temperatures that have already resulted in more than a dozen deaths across the state, Feist is trying to stay positive. The association works with local Jewish organizations to support parishioners through food deliveries, temporary housing, and heating.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jewish insider: Do you feel like someone was prepared for this?
Mariam Shpeen Feist: It’s like asking, “Are you prepared for the pandemic or tornado?” … I think yesterday was really a day of shock because I think no one expected it. We were expecting the rolling blackouts, but promised they would last 15 to 45 minutes each … Some people, thankfully, haven’t lost any power at all. I understand from one of our city councilors who is Jewish. I think she said these streets are places that haven’t lost power because of the electricity company or the fire [department]Whoever it is knows that there are people who have oxygen or other things that keep them alive on these streets. And that’s why they ensure that these areas do not lose power.
The rhythm I’ve seen now [at home] since Sunday at 2 a.m.: We are on the road for about 12 hours at a time and then we are on the road for two hours. Off for 12 hours, one for two hours. I have other people on my team or people we know in the community. You’ve had maybe four hours of electricity since two a.m. on Sunday. I have [people’s homes] Where pipes burst now, their houses will be flooded on the frost. And there is no place to go. There is no hotel room with electricity. There are just no places to go. And so our JCC tried to be a heat center to open, but we did [couldn’t] Get the parking lot de-iced. We can’t make it safe.
People really help people. We have a Facebook page called Dallas Jewish Moms – the pouring out of strangers who literally tell strangers to come to their homes, to open their homes to the babies, to the dogs, to the families. You know it’s amazing And that’s Dallas. That’s resilience and just people, they put COVID second. First is people’s lives. “Put on a mask and come to our house”. That’s what they’re dealing with. So it’s pretty incredible.
APPEAR: What is the community doing to support those who are having trouble this week?
Feist: because [of] During the pandemic, the association organized a so-called team for managing health crises. And these were rabbis who were the heads of our Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas, the heads of Chabad and the heads of Orthodox rabbis, and our greatest CEOs of our largest agencies, like our JCC, our senior housing and so on. So we have the infrastructure. [On Monday]We were all so shocked that today we started working on who is open, who can be a heat center, what we have, what is happening. We’re all just trying to coordinate with each other to make sure people are safe. So the synagogues are really closing together where they don’t open as much as they find a family, parishioners who take in other parishioners, Jewish parishioners from other synagogues. We’re all just trying to band together to see this through.
APPEAR: Now what are some of the different needs?
Feist: For example one of the kosher restaurants and grocery stores today [Kosher Palate] organized free meals in two different locations in south Dallas. So we’re working with them, the Dallas Jewish Community, the Dallas Jewish Community Association and Foundation to help fund these meals for the next two days. Because within two days we should be in better shape. You know, we’ll meet again in 48 hours, but it’s supposed to be 67 on Saturday [degrees] and sunny here. Hopefully we are not in the position we are in right now. So we’re going to help fund this while he works on it and works with all the synagogues. So the rabbis know it and can pass this information on to their congregation with discretion … But there are people who really have nothing to eat.
APPEAR: Are you in contact with the other associations in Texas?
Feist: I think we’ve all been so shocked that we’re just trying to take care of our own community before we realize what’s going on everywhere else. So I was in contact with [the director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston]. But unlike when Houston had a flood and we were able to deliver 30,000 kosher meals, we can’t help it, we’re in the same boat. And when we had the tornado, they were the first to call and say, “What do you need?” We’re both in the same boat now. We are everywhere like the pandemic. It is like the first time in history that Israel and all Jews around the world are going through the same crisis. Everyone in Texas is going through the same thing right now.
It is very humble to think that such a number of Americans live. It is humbling to know that I am lucky to have a roof over my head and have food. We care about making it through the night, but millions of Americans do it every night and every day. We keep counting our blessings.