"Everyone said, it's just things. Things can be replaced. But that's not true, things have memories attached to them."
-- Michael, survivor of Tubbs fire.
We moved to California from Houston in September of 2017, right after Hurricane Harvey. The hurricane destroyed thousands of homes. The grief, chaos, and amount of need following the storm was overwhelming.
Just weeks after our arrival, we were awoken during the night by a very strong smell of smoke. The Tubbs fire had broken out. Our neighbors in Sonoma and Napa counties had to escape in the middle of the night, with no notice, sometimes in their pajamas when firemen burst through their doors and told them to run.
Unlike the aftermath of Harvey, after the fires there was nothing left to clean up. Survivors lost everything. As one of them said to me, “I wanted some yogurt but realized that I don’t own a spoon.”
During and after the fires, everyone mobilized to help. That’s the thing about natural disasters, they bring out the best in people. We all want to help in times of such collective grief and helplessness.
But the road to recovery is long, complicated, painful and lasts much longer than the media coverage. Over a year after the fires, most people are still living in temporary housing for the foreseeable future.
I knew from my friends who lost their homes during Harvey how painful it was to lose photographs, art, kids’ artwork, and irreplaceable family heirlooms. I remembered a friend of mine, who during a grease fire in their apartment ran to save their ketubah first.
And that’s when it dawned on me – what if I offered to make new ketubahs for anyone who lost theirs?
So I did! Yesterday, after months of correspondence and work, Patricio and I drove up to Santa Rosa to deliver the new ketubahs. What an incredible experience it was to make new friends and hear their stories. You can see a glimpse into the journey here:
One of the survivors, Michael, shared with us the harrowing story of watching the orange glow grow larger in the distance through the night, and how, when they evacuated, it wasn’t until they stepped over foot-high debris on their front steps, that he realized they may not be coming back.
Another survivor described the panic as she worked to gather her terrified pets and evacuate in time. She remembers the urge to go back in for dog food, but then realizing that there was no time and it was too dangerous.
I also met Melanie, who is the daughter of an artist. They had stored all of her late mother’s art in their home. On the night of the fires, she managed to save a few prints. Everything else perished.
Yesterday, when I delivered their new ketubah, she gifted me one of the prints. How can I put into words how much this meant to me? I will cherish this beautiful art forever, and draw inspiration from it every time I see it in my studio.
"Pressure" by Edith Kallman
When I started out on this project, goal was to help people heal. The experience has been so inspiring, that I decided to keep it going.
And guess what? My efforts made the news! Check out the story on ABC 7.
If you know anyone who lost their ketubah in a natural disaster, please put them in touch with me. It would make me so happy to make them a new one.