Chava Gal-Or has been distributing mezuzahs for free to Jewish hurricane victims. (Photo/Courtesy Chava Gal-Or)
Chava Gal-Or has been distributing mezuzahs for free to Jewish hurricane victims. (Photo/Courtesy Chava Gal-Or)

This Texan distributes mezuzahs to hurricane and fire victims

As Hurricane Harvey swept over Houston, Chava Gal-Or counted herself lucky. The water rose up to her door and a little bit seeped in, but her home did not flood.

However, many in the Reform synagogue where she works had it much worse: Twenty-nine families lost their homes — about 15 percent of the congregation’s members.

At first, Gal-Or despaired the extent of the damage and how little she could do to help.

“I can’t rebuild their houses,” said Gal-Or, the director of congregational learning for the Texas city’s Temple Sinai. “I don’t have the money to do much. There was this increasing awareness that there was nothing I could do.”

But what she could do, Gal-Or realized, was help her neighbors make their temporary homes and (eventually) their rebuilt homes feel Jewish. She began collecting mezuzahs to distribute free to Jewish hurricane victims, so they could attach them to their doorposts.

Thus the unofficial organization Door L’Door was born. The name is a play on the biblical phrase “l’dor v’dor,” which means “from generation to generation.”

Gal-Or, 51, was hoping to find a couple of parchments for close friends. But a public Facebook post quickly led to an outpouring of donations. Two months after launching the effort, she has raised nearly $1,000 to purchase mezuzahs and has received some 120 donated scrolls. The Jewish United Fund, Chicago’s Jewish federation, sent 100 scrolls and cases. She also got donations from synagogues in Texas, Delaware and Arizona, as well as the University of Arizona Hillel. Two artists volunteered to fashion mezuzah cases.

A damaged home seen after Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas, Aug. 26, 2017. (Photo/JTA-Joe Raedle-Getty Images)
A damaged home seen after Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas, Aug. 26, 2017. (Photo/JTA-Joe Raedle-Getty Images)

So far, Gal-Or has received about 20 requests for mezuzahs —  most people affected by the storm are still fixing their homes, she said. But in the meantime, natural disasters have struck elsewhere —  for example, Gal-Or has been in touch with Congregation Shomrei Torah, a synagogue in Santa Rosa, whose members endured the recent wildfires.

“It literally took on a life of its own,” she said. “This is becoming my passion. Every day, something new comes up.”

Mezuzahs are a uniting thread across a diverse and often divided Jewish community, Gal-Or said. “In almost every Jewish home there’s a mezuzah, regardless of what people believe,” she added. “It was the one thing that brings all of us together in a challenging time. It’s the one thing that marks a home as being Jewish, regardless of what your spiritual inclination is, where you fit in in society.”

Gal-Or works on Door L’Door — coordinating donations, spreading the word on social media — only on Mondays, when she’s not working at the synagogue. It’s a tricky balance; she also is recovering from a respiratory infection, caused by the hurricane, and is busy helping friends put their lives back together. She hopes to register the organization as a nonprofit soon.

In addition to mezuzahs, she also has fielded requests for other ritual objects. Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa asked about prayer shawls, and she came up with a couple dozen she plans to send. Thinking ahead to next month, she is asking for donations of spare Hanukkah menorahs.

“This started because of Harvey, but I knew immediately that I wanted to be able to help any Jewish home that was destroyed,” Gal-Or said. “We had [a hurricane in] Florida right after us. We had earthquakes in Mexico. A lot of stuff is going on.”

Ben Sales
Ben Sales

JTA reporter