After Harvey criticism, Joel Osteen opens church to Jews for High Holy Days

(RNS) L'Shanah Tovah, y'all.

Joel and Victoria Osteen, leaders of Houston's Lakewood Church, are offering that Hebrew "happy new year" greeting to a displaced Jewish congregation. The offer comes just a few weeks after the couple were criticized for not immediately opening their stadiumlike downtown megachurch as a Hurricane Harvey shelter.

"Congregation Beth Yeshurun experienced devastating flooding," an announcement on the church's website says beneath a picture of the smiling Osteens. "This came at an especially bad time for Beth Yeshurun as the Jewish High Holy Days, (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), are this week. Beth Yeshurun's leadership reached out to us and Pastors Joel & Victoria offered to help."

The Osteens came under fire while Harvey's rain was still falling when pictures shared on social media of a dry church seemed to contradict Lakewood's Facebook post declaring the church "inaccessible due to severe flooding."

The Osteens opened their 16,800-seat church as a shelter a few days later and have described the whole situation as a "mix-up."

Beth Yeshurun, in the Meyerland section of Houston, took on a foot of water in its main sanctuary. The congregation of 2,000 member families is one of the largest Jewish sanctuaries in the country.

"Every square inch of the temple flooded,” Senior Rabbi David Rosen told Houston's KHOU-TV.

It is not unusual for synagogues to use usually larger church sanctuaries for the High Holy Days, when the house is packed and services may require tickets.

The Osteens are televangelists who preach a form of "prosperity gospel." Recent sermon titles include "Living Joyful," "Yes Is Coming" and "Better Together." Their nondenominational Sunday services draw about 25,000 people and are broadcast to more than 100 countries in a program rated by Nielsen Media Research as the top inspirational program in the U.S.

Beth Yeshurun is a Conservative congregation, a branch of Judaism noted for its respect for Jewish traditions and law, including dietary laws. Its services are livestreamed.

After the High Holy Days, Beth Yeshurun will hold their regular services at another Houston synagogue.

“I cannot thank Joel Osteen enough for his sensitivity and his encouragement,” Rosen told KHOU. “It’s a reaffirmation of the beautiful spirit of collegiality and interfaith conversation we have here in Houston.”

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