February 26, 2012
I first met NECHAMA: The Jewish Response to Disaster in September 2005 immediately after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Mississippi Gulf Coast and, by overwhelming the poorly constructed levees, New Orleans. I was serving as lead staff for the United Jewish Communities (now Jewish Federations of North America) Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Mitigation Committee. In that role, I was responsible to help coordinate the resources of all Jewish non-profit organizations as the Jewish community responded with money and hands-on resources to the immediate and long-tern needs of victims in the disaster zones and in evacuee host communities. NECHAMA immediately deployed two full trucks/teams to the outskirts of New Orleans and UJC helped support its efforts with several grants. NECHAMA drew hundreds/perhaps thousands of volunteers to its work sites over an extended stay in the region and helped gutt and prepare for rebuilding hundreds of homes in the region. In August 2006, my wife and two sons joined me for a week's deployment with NECHAMA where we worked alogside volunteers from several states in three different homes that week. In one case, the homeowner, an African American lay church leader, told us that in the entire year since Katrina hit, the only people who reached out to help him clean his home were the volunteers provided by NECHAMA. In subsequent years, I spent some time visiting work crews deployed in Atlanta and helped facilitate arrangements for NECHAMA deployments in upstate New York and Nashville. This is an organization which, with very limited financial and human resources, provides immeasurable benefits to victims in their darkest moments after a disaster strikes. Its volunteer and professional leadership is selfless and totally committed to the Jewish tradition of "Tikkun Olam", healing the world. In light of all the good it has done and continues to do, NECHAMA should be recognized for its efforts as a world-class volunteer, non-government organization.
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