Colorado floods wreak havoc on Yom Kippur observanceby andrea jacobs , intermountain jewish news
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Heavy rains followed by extreme flooding wreaked havoc across much of Colorado last week. As of Sept. 18, six people were confirmed dead and more than 300 were missing, with some 18,000 homes damaged.
Jewish federations across North America are working with the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, which is taking the lead in assessing needs and distributing funds and supplies to the hardest-hit areas. The Jewish Federations of North America provided $50,000 in emergency aid and opened an online donation fund, as have the three Bay Area federations (see box below).
The brunt of the flooding hit Boulder and the surrounding area, where at least five synagogues were under water by the start of Yom Kippur Friday evening, Sept. 13.
Rabbi Marc Soloway, spiritual leader of Conservative Bonai Shalom in Boulder, said his synagogue sustained significant flooding. “Our Yom Kippur services are scheduled elsewhere,” he said. “It’s a mess.”
At Har HaShem, Boulder’s major Reform synagogue, the power was out. “The lower level of the main building was under 4 feet of water,” said communications and membership director Ellen Kowitt.
Chany Scheiner described a scene of chaos at the of Chabad of Boulder synagogue, which is attached to the side of her home. The Scheiners and their children were evacuated; when they returned to assess the damage, they found a few inches of brown water in the synagogue. Family members got on their knees to clean the small worship space and then tackled the house.
Orthodox Boulder Aish Kodesh sent an email to 500 residents announcing that heavy rains and flooding had destroyed the tent it had prepared for the holiday, and its parking lot was under water. The email offered alternative locations for services, including Denver synagogues out of harm’s way.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm of Chabad at the University of Colorado was receiving a call a minute and a stream of emails the morning of Sept. 13. Students were contacting him to find out where they could attend services in Boulder. Some, unable to get home to Denver, also called. Others trapped in inaccessible areas requested basic supplies.
“Although I couldn’t stay long at services, people were talking to each other, pooling resources and figuring out what was necessary,” Lev said.
Flooding virtually annihilated the Chabad Jewish Center of Longmont, located about 25 miles northeast of Boulder. “Our shul was completely ruined,” Rabbi Yakov Borenstein said. He managed to save the Torah scroll, prayerbooks and other ritual items before being evacuated with his wife and four children on Sept. 12.
“Our Hebrew school is gone,” he said. “The water is 2 feet deep. Humidity has warped all our sacred books.”
Only about 30 to 40 “hard-core” congregants made it to Reconstructionist Beth Evergreen for Kol Nidre services, said Rabbi Jamie Arnold; about 300 attended Yom Kippur services the next day at the shul just outside Denver, when the clouds dissipated long enough to allow for safe travel.
“I didn’t change my sermon substan-
tially,” Arnold said. “I included prayers for healing and read names for those unable to say Kaddish for their loved ones. But my sermon was about the function of community; how it provides sanctuary. I think that said it all.”
JTA contributed to this report.
How to donate
The Jewish Federations of North America has opened an online donation fund for Colorado flood recovery. For details, visit http://www.jewishfederations.org.
The following Bay Area federations also have opened online donation funds:
• S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund my.jewishfed.org/pages/colorado-flood
• Jewish Federation of the East Bay www.tinyurl.com/formstack-colorado-flood
• Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley www.jvalley.org/home/colorado-flood-relief-fund
Editorial | As waters recede, flood victims counting on us
It was a horrifying sight: floodwaters rushing down normally quiet residential streets, homes washed away by the mud and torrents, rescue personnel overwhelmed, several people dead and hundreds missing.
These were not hurricane-battered mountain villages in Central America, but the placid Rocky Mountain towns of central Colorado: Boulder, Lyons, Longmont. A once-a-millennium series of storms devastated the region last week, and residents are still digging out.
As our story on page 8 details, the Jewish communities of Boulder and surrounding towns were not spared. Several synagogues were flooded, one Hebrew school washed away and many sacred texts were destroyed.
Of course, the story is not so much the natural disaster but rather the collective determination to help victims recover. On that score, Jews and Jewish institutions in the Bay Area and across the country have jumped to the forefront.
All three of our local Jewish federations have set up emergency funds for victims of the Colorado floods. The national arm, the Jewish Federations of North America, rushed $50,000 in immediate emergency aid and is continuing to raise money.
We urge our readers to contribute to these efforts, either locally or nationally. The full extent of the flood damage is still unknown, but surely there will be a huge cost to rebuild. Our brothers and sisters across Colorado will need a helping hand.
The fact that this disaster occurred around Yom Kippur adds a measure of poignancy to the story. Every year in synagogue during the Days of Awe, we chant the words, “Who by flood, who by fire?” At this time of year, we are never too far from those intimations of mortality.
As we gather in our sukkahs this week to celebrate our bounty, let us take a moment to note our good fortune that we have been spared this calamity. The best way to acknowledge that is to help the afflicted — something Jews and the Jewish community have always done and will continue to do.
The funds being raised in the Jewish community for Colorado are intended for all those affected. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Colorado,” said Michael Siegal, chair of the JFNA board of trustees.
Whenever disaster strikes in the world, from tsunamis in Southeast Asia to earthquakes in Haiti, Jewish organizations send immediate aid while Israeli rescue and medical personnel rush to the scene, offering their expertise and caring support. It’s something to be proud of, always.
We wish a chag sameach and a joyous Sukkot to all our readers.
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