HOUSTON, Texas - Wednesday is the beginning of the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah.
As members of the United Orthodox Synagogue of Houston are preparing for the Jewish holiday, they are going through dozens of books that were ruined by Hurricane Harvey.
There are piles of literature and prayer books outside the synagogue, but the rabbi said they won't be throwing them away. Out of respect, the damaged books will be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
"It's considered to be the most respectful way to dispose of these ruined books rather than throwing them in the garbage with refuse and other things," said Rabbi Barry Gelman.
The United Orthodox Synagogue has been flooded three times in three years, and Gelman said this year's Rosh Hashanah will be treated as a "rebirth" and not a memorial.
Hurricane Harvey's wrath left the worst damage of all.
Up to seven feet of water flooded the facility, nearly reaching the ark where the Torah is normally kept.
The rabbi says they plan to rebuild, but there is concern about whether or not those who live near the congregation will choose to do so as well. Should they choose to move, it could decimate the close-knit Jewish community.
Meyerland's orthodox Jewish community will rebuild
"The flood has proven why we have to stay. It's not giving us a reason to leave; the fact that we were so united and so together and so prepared...is the answer to the question. We need community," said Gelman.
Among the Hebrew scrawled on art inside the flood-ravaged synagogue of the United Orthodox Synagoges is a phrase which translates to "From strength to strength". Those are words never more poignant than now for this congregation of 300 families.
"It's a physical blow and it's a real emotional and spiritual blow because this was our community center, this room, and to not be able to come back to it is really, really difficult," said Gelman.
The roots of the congregation date back over 100 years.
"It's hard, it's really hard," said Janelle Garner, who is a member of the synagogue. She is among those who live nearby, purposefully. Orthodox Jews are not supposed to drive on the Sabbath so they walk to the synagogue. That's why she says many won't be moving, even though, their homes, too, flooded.
"It really binds us. It really keeps us together, and I don't want to move away from that," Garner said.
They will go again, from strength to strength. Together.
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