Rabbi Lev Baesh, RN, MSN, CHPN, JD

Austin, TX

Lev BaeshWhat has the storm crisis been like for you, your congregants, and your community?

We live in a high rise downtown on the same grid as the downtown hospitals, police station, capital, so we didn’t lose power, but the top third of our building blew a circuit and we had to turn off our stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, electric heaters, so we could save enough power to have lights and a little heat and maybe a microwave to cook with. We would have had water all the way through but because of the freeze we blew a few valves that connect us to the city water so our water had to be shut off. We got enough notice to fill half of our bathtub, and we were without water for 4 or 5 days until they could fix the valves.

Before we had to shut down the electric I baked a lot of bread loaves. The people who work in our building were stranded and had no food, so my neighbors and I put together food packages for them and checked in with each other. There are homeless people in our area who had to leave and go indoors for shelter but there were a few who stayed. Some restaurants downtown used their kitchens to make food for everyone in the neighborhood. The restaurant across the street provided 400 meals a day.  My congregation stayed connected on Facebook, through email and text and are always good about taking care of each other.

I’m a palliative care nurse during the day, and during the week of the freeze the hospital had no running water. I can do a lot of my work from home —  I work with patients and families when they need long term care or are dying, and need to make choices about their care such as whether they want to be resuscitated or want hospice. During the freeze it was brutal because people ran out of oxygen at home, and had to be picked up by an ambulance and die at the hospital. I was in touch with the patients, families, and hospitals, which were short staffed. Now I’m part of the angry, frustrated contingent trying to figure out how to change major corporate and industrial and governmental bodies in Texas so we don’t end up with this situation again. There are still people without food, water, and electricity two weeks out from the storm.

How has your HUC education prepared you for this work?

I was ordained 26 years ago and am a third-generation HUC ordained reform rabbi. I grew up embedded in the reform movement. Prior to HUC my reform background exposed me to rabbis, cantors, educators, and teachers who walked the talk and taught me that the reform movement was about justice. During my time at HUC Cincinnati, a friend and I drove a bunch of kids in a snowstorm for the Consult on Conscience, from the temple where both of us worked as educators. We wouldn’t have had this experience if not for HUC. I was able to work at a battered women’s shelter and be a counselor at a student counseling center in CN for underserved students. I also worked at Habitat for Humanity in CN, an opportunity that I found through colleagues that I met through HUC. At HUC/Jerusalem I was able to be a Big Brother to a teenager whose father was killed in Lebanon a few years earlier. I was a lawyer before I was a rabbi and I always focused on helping kids as a lawyer. When I got to Israel there was a project to create a new foster care law system. At the time I was there all the foster kids were under religious or secular foster care, and there was no way to interact with their family of origin or their culture. I worked with an Israeli attorney and made the first foster care open adoption law for the state of Israel through the Society for Protection of Children in Israel. She got to argue in the Knesset and we got to pass it through as a law.

What are the challenges, and what gives you hope?

The challenge is that we live in a world where there are inconsistencies in care based on finances and documented status, and the people that suffered the most during the storm and pandemic are the people who don’t have resources. Many can’t depend on governmental help because the help isn’t available to people who are undocumented or uninsured. What gives me hope is that those who are privileged are working together to make change. We are working to bring justice and equality to the communities around us.