My Experience of the Houston Flood by Rebbetzin Gabi Gelman

My Experience of the Houston Flood by Rebbetzin Gabi Gelman

I am originally from Belle Harbor, New York, and we moved to Houston 14 years ago so my husband could become the rabbi of an Orthodox shul here. There are about 50,000 Jews living in the Houston area.

This is the 3rd time our house has flooded. In 2015 we were living in a house we owned across the street from our shul, and there was a storm that flooded the shul, our house, as well as many others. We had about 3 feet of water in our house and lost all of our furniture and a lot of our possessions. We lived with our neighbors down the street for 3 months, and then in a rental apartment for a year.

During our time in the rental apartment, in April 2016, Houston flooded again and many people from our community got flooded a 2nd time . The house we had left also flooded then, but we had not returned to it, so it didn’t impact us much.

Now Hurricane Harvey has hit Houston and we are flooded again. Since our house had flooded twice already, we had decided not to return to it and bought a new house, one that historically had never flooded.

We moved into it last year in June and we were confident that we would never get flooded again.

Saturday night, after Shabbos, the rain was coming down heavily and very quickly the streets were filling up with water. Even though our house had never flooded in the past, we began to become concerned and started to lift things up off the floor- we put our couch on folding chairs, wrapped the legs of our table with plastic bags, and lifted up anything that was on a bottom shelf.

All Saturday night, it rained and rained, and we saw that the water was steadily creeping up toward our front door.

By Sunday morning, we really thought our house was going to flood (our house only has one floor, so we could not go upstairs to escape the rising water).

So we quickly packed a “go bag”- electronics, important papers, a change of clothing, and left our home with a kayak/raft.

Starting about 5 am on Sunday, some members of our community had been going around the neighborhood helping people evacuate from their homes to safer places.

We went to a friend’s house – she has a 2nd floor so we knew we would be safe even if her first floor flooded. In the end, she had 24 people in her home, plus a dog. Power went out quickly, and we all spent a long night alternating between a hot, dark second floor and running to the hallway during tornado warnings.

Today (Monday, August 28th) even though it is still raining heavily, the water has subsided somewhat. We walked to our house to see the damage- we have about 2 feet of water in the house and many things are ruined.

Thank G-d, for us this flood is better for us than the one 2 years ago, because we’ve had less water and we had some time to prepare and get ready.

Our house is not livable right now. We are spending tonight at our local day school which has power and air conditioning. The next step for everyone here is to wait for the rain to stop- and then to begin cleanup and the fixing of our home. While we fix our house we may rent an apartment, but there will be a rush now on any available housing.

My in-laws moved down to Houston a few years ago from New York to be close to us, so once we can get to their apartment (right now roads are impassable) we can stay with them for a while.

We have 5 kids- 3 are not home right now. Sam (21) is a Yeshiva University student. Lilly (20) is at Stern College. Ben (18) is learning in yeshiva in Israel. Eli (13) and Amichai (10) are with us.

All our children are very upset and anxious. They feel betrayed because after going through the 2015 flood and losing their house and many of their possessions, we had told them that this new house would be safe and not flood and now, here they are, going through this all over again. My older kids feel nervous and message us often to see if we are OK and to find out what is happening.

Our shul- United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) sustained terrible damage. In 2015, part of it flooded but a raised social hall was available after the flood to hold services and as a safe meeting place for the community. This time, the water was so high that every part of the shul was flooded – the sanctuary, beit midrash, social halls, mikvah…Torahs were saved and removed before this past Shabbat, but everything else has water damage

Also, here in Houston, we have a few different areas that have Orthodox shuls. This storm affected ALL of them (some more than others). It has affected so many people- many who were the ones offering help in 2015. This will be an issue going forward as we will have so many more people who will need help to recover.

Locally and nationally, we have received an outpouring of love and support. Right away, messages and calls were coming in- to see how people could help and to check if we were OK. Since we are still in the thick of the storm, really nothing can be done right now. Afterwards we will need so much assistance.

What gives me chizuk? The outpouring of kindness and goodness that we see during a disaster like this gives you faith in humankind in general. Specifically, in our Jewish community, where we know that we will band together, and help each other.

People will not be left homeless and will not be alone. The Jewish community is already gathering information on the needs people will have

There are no divisions- Orthodox, Modern, Conservative, Reform- whatever label you associate with- after an event like this- all Jews are family, and family helps family.

To donate to assist the struggling Jews of Houston whose homes have been flooded (some of whom, unfortunately, do not have flood insurance), you can visit the website of United Orthodox Synagogues or The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. Visit the website of the Orthodox Union to send chizuk to Houston’s Jewish community and to sign up to say Tehillim.


  1. Rashi Rosenzweig

    Hi Gabi. I sent you a message via Facebook. How bloody awful. Wishing you tons of strength at this time. GD Bless.

    Rashi Rosenzweig (Richie – ex: Belle Harbor)

  2. Jackie Binstock

    We are so glad you are safe! Please know that your former community (HIR)is thinking of you and all the flood victims whom this has so devastated. May Hashem give all of you strength to get through the next few days, weeks and months. You know we will help any way that we can! Sending love and tefillot,

    Jackie Binstock

  3. Rachel Berke

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. You are NOT alone. Dallas is prepping to help. Guest rooms are ready. Clothes organized. Gift cards donated. Ready to come help clean up as soon as we can get there! Stay strong!

  4. Arnie & Joan Stark

    Best wishes from us to you Barbara & Marty as well
    Glad to learn your all safe and looking forward to
    getting dry
    All good things

  5. Alice Raby

    Joel and I (Shaar Hashomayim) are thinking of you and wish you well in the days, weeks and months ahead.

  6. Ken Sheinman

    Hi Gabi—I go way back with both you and Barry (Rabbi Gelman). I feel absolutely terrible about the situation and we would like to help you guys out in any way we possibly can.

    Once things calm down a bit, would like for you and Barry to please reach out to Jodi and I.

    Wishing you guys only the best. Keep safe and speak soon.

  7. Patricia Fass Palmer

    Gabi…..We are relieved to know you are all safe and dry. Sending love and hugs to all. Patricia and Peter

  8. debra Kriger

    I gave via amazon to a chabad some necessities in quantity . I kow it is not a lot but I did something . I am sending you da. love and I will also pray and also please put on facebook legit sites where all the money will go to people in need or at least most of it.

    I wanted to visit Huston for Shabbos perhaps I BH will come soon and see what I can help with or just give chizzuk …

    I pray that all will be ok and you get alot of love and support that helps BH with every life challenge Hashem sends us.

  9. Jake Wishnia

    Be safe
    Thanks for sharing

  10. Hi Gabi, I am writing from Israel. I read your article this morning that you wrote in and cannot even imagine what you are going through. My son is getting married today here. It is said that the heavens open up underneath the chuppah (without rain) and Hashem hears our prayers. I will say a special bracha this evening, for you, your family and all of those affected by this disaster. May Hashem bless you and keep you safe.

  11. What a trip — i was in BMT in 1994-95 and used to come to your house for a nighttime chabura — some really good friends of mine here in israel are from Houston so been keeping a beat of whats happening — May you have the koach to bounce back and continue your avoda there even better than before, and may your family only draw closer to each other through these unfortunately traumatic events. To sunnier and joyous times ahead — besorot tovot — ezra amichai (friedland-Wechsler)

  12. Jonathan Keller

    I am a frequent visitor to Houston and often daven at the UOS. I recall seeing the devastation after the 2015 floods so I can only imagine what you are going through now. The picture of the late Rabbi Radinsky being rescued by boat sticks in my mind. May you have the stregnth, fortitude and community spirit to overcome this nisayon. Only smachot and besorot tovot. Jonathan Keller Raanana

  13. Every Teigman

    Hi gabi
    I don’t know if you remember me it’s evey teigman we worked in mesorah and of course know Barry from Oceanside. My heart goes out to you. I cannot imagine going through this more than once since we had sandy! It is devastating. My tefilot are with you and your beautiful family.
    Evey Teigman

  14. Lisa (Langer) Baratz

    Hi Gabi – Thinking of you and your family. I am from Belle Harbor (I babysat you & your siblings back in the day) and was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Wishing you all strength at this time.

    Lisa (Langer) Baratz

  15. Joyce Schreiber

    Hi Gabi, not sure if you remember us…Joyce and Joe Schreiber from Camp Lavi days. But we remember you and Barry so well. We are so sorry to hear about the plight of the community in Houston. Please tell Donniel Ogorek and his wife that we send our best to them too. Sending you this message from Raanana Israel where our son Dani is the associate rav in the shul that Rashi Rosensweig goes to..the small Jewish world at work. Shabbat Shalom and stay safe.

  16. yael mermelstein

    Gabi, thinking of you 🙁

    Hugs, Yael

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