HOUSTON (AP) — Steven Plumb recently walked out of his apartment, headed down seven flights of stairs and started toward the synagogue.
The Houston Chronicle reports it was Shabbat, the Jewish holy day, so there could be no driving or using electronic conveniences such as elevators. Following the orthodox faith, Plumb and his family walk to synagogue every Saturday, rain or shine, through searing summers and frigid winters, as their ancestors have done for centuries.
But these days, every step along the 10-minute walk from The Halstead apartments to the United Orthodox Synagogues brings painful reminders of when Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on Houston and upended Plumb's life.
He walked past three apartment complexes filled with displaced friends and neighbors.
He walked the bridge across Brays Bayou, which three months ago overflowed its banks and flooded his Meyerland home of nearly 17 years.
He walked around the waterlogged synagogue off Greenwillow, once a sanctuary for some 300 faithful that now sits empty.
"It's like a nuclear bomb was dropped on our neighborhood," he said.
Harvey devastated rich and poor. Black and white, Hispanic and Asian. But it had an outsized impact on the city's tight-knit Jewish community in flood-prone Meyerland, many of whom will celebrate Hanukkah this year in temporary quarters.
About one out of every 13 Jewish families in Houston flooded during Harvey. The storm damaged three of the city's largest synagogues, with a combined membership of 3,900 families. The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston took on 10 feet of water. Floodwater inundated the Jewish senior home, the community resource center and the Beth Yeshurun Day School.
"Nobody in this community was completely immune," said Suzanne Jacobson with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.
The Plumbs are one of an estimated 2,000 Jewish households that flooded during Harvey.
Plumb's father flooded. So did his in-laws and all of his neighbors. Friends, co-workers, acquaintances flooded. Half of the kids in his eldest son's Jewish day school class flooded. They know more than 100 flood victims personally.
Growing up in Meyerland, Plumb remembers kids paddling canoes in the streets in front of Kolter Elementary after heavy rains. He's been through Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricane Ike and the Memorial Day and Tax Day floods.
Harvey was something else.
Steven Plumb, a certified public accountant, and his wife, Tammy, prepared as best they could. They had their three kids — Nathan, 17; Jacob, 14; and Sarah, 11 — pack their bags with clothes, important paperwork, laptops, phones and personal things. What couldn't be carried, they put on countertops. They took pictures for insurance purposes.
Then they waited.
The water came in through the front door around 4 a.m. on Aug. 27. Steven and Tammy woke up the kids and, with their dog, Schnitzel, escaped to their neighbor's two-story home. From the second floor, the Plumbs watched as their home flooded and neighbors were rescued by helicopters and boats.
"It's a helpless feeling," Nathan said. "The water gets closer and there's literally nothing you can do."
When the water finally receded, Steven couldn't believe how much had come into their home.
"I thought if it got inside, it'd be a few inches, not 2 feet," Steven said.
Gone were the boys' bar mitzvah photos, Tammy's childhood pictures and negatives of photographs that Steven took for his high school yearbook. Heirlooms from Tammy's aunt. A piano from one of Steven's uncles, handed down through the generations.
"We hope to restore it, but I don't know if we can," Tammy said of the piano, stranded inside their gutted home.
When Steven Plumb reached the synagogue's reception hall, hundreds of worshippers — wearing kippah head coverings and tallit prayer shawls — were gathering for Rabbi Barry Gelman's sermon.
Gelman, whose home was flooded, stood on a makeshift bimah platform in the middle of the reception hall, freshly patched with 4 feet of new drywall. Floodwater had claimed the main prayer rooms and classrooms, destroying hundreds of religious texts and items. The congregation now relies on donated books and shawls.
After the Torah was read and prayers were recited, Steven returned to his two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment where Tammy was preparing to host 17 friends for Shabbat lunch.
It was a tight squeeze, but they made do with folding tables and chairs. As guests wandered in, kids on the sofa played mahjong, a game they learned from a neighbor while cooped up for three days without power and running water.
It's important to remain hospitable, following Jewish tradition, Steven said. He recalled the biblical story of Abraham, who three days after his ritual circumcision welcomed guests at his tent in the middle of the desert.
"He immediately got up to be hospitable, leaving God to tend to his guests," Steven said. "That's how important hospitality is to us."
The meal was uniquely Jewish and Texan: Challah bread, broken over red wine, followed by beef and chicken fajitas cooked over an apartment grill that Steven sterilized with aluminum foil and high heat.
Tammy misses her old kitchen. With two sets of sinks, dishwashers and refrigerators and several sets of cutlery, it was easy to prevent milk and meat from mixing, per kosher rules. After Harvey, Steven and Tammy watched as that dream kitchen was pulled out one piece at a time and carried to the curb.
Steven and Tammy Plumb bought their midcentury modern home shortly before Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Though just two blocks away from Brays Bayou, the single-story home was spared the widespread flooding.
The four-bedroom, four-bathroom home was a good size for their growing family and a short drive to Tammy's job in the Texas Medical Center. Most importantly, it was within walking distance to their synagogue and near everything in their Jewish community.
Since Harvey, they have moved in with friends and changed apartments twice. They've decided to move out of Meyerland.
There's a buyer lined up to purchase their home "as is." The contract just needs Steven and Tammy's signature, but they couldn't make themselves sign it. Not yet, at least.
"Rationally it's the right thing to do, but emotionally it's hard to do," Steven said. "This home is the only one my kids know."
Steven tries to go by there once a week, typically after work.
Floodlights illuminating homes up and down the street belie the fact that only two of some 20 families on the block have moved back in.
Every week, Steven notices a few more for-sale signs in debris-strewn lawns. Other neighbors are rebuilding. Most are in limbo as they wait for insurance money to come in and the government to mitigate the flood risk.
The Plumbs hope to buy or build an elevated home in Willow Meadows. It'll be closer to synagogue but farther from their friends and neighbors in Meyerland. And it probably won't flood, Tammy said.
"We moved in with a flood," she said. "And we're moving out with a flood."
The conversation over Shabbat lunch quickly turned to Harvey, and the city's plans to purchase flooded homes and convert them to green space. Good intentions aside, buyouts would change the character of the Jewish community in Meyerland, Steven said.
"I don't think buyouts are the solution," he said. "Lifting is the solution. I think it would cost less to lift up homes. Then you would be preserving our community."
Dr. Jeff Morgan, a heart surgeon at the Texas Medical Center, agreed.
"This is our community. Our synagogue is here," Morgan said. "We need to build up to the appropriate height."
Preserving the Jewish community is paramount as families begin to rebuild, Steven said. As homes are renovated or replaced with more expensive ones, Steven fears young families looking to practice their faith could be priced out.
"You need economic diversity," he said. "You need young families to move here; otherwise, we will wither away."
As an afternoon sun shone through apartment windows that overlook Brays Bayou, Steven noted that construction crews have been working since Harvey to widen the channel.
"It should have been done 10 years ago," he said as he began clearing the tables.
Yet Harvey has drawn the community closer together.
There have been donations big and small. A kosher food truck pulled up in Meyerland, feeding workers free meals for a month. Cups and food warmers arrived from around the country.
More than 12,000 donors, from all 50 states and around the world, have helped the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston raise more than $17 million toward its $30 million goal for Harvey relief. Donations included a $1 million gift from the state of Israel.
Nathan, president of a student club called Making a Difference, helped coordinate a school fundraiser that generated $25,000 in online donations.
"You appreciate the residents of the Jewish community and the incredible amount of support," Tammy said. "It may be hard for others to understand, but that's what keeps us here."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com