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Now in the midst of the High Holidays, the Union for Reform Judaism continues to share updates about congregations and communities affected by the recent storms. The situations in both Puerto Rico and St. Thomas remain urgent, with basic living conditions and communications extremely challenged. Ongoing support continues to be important for Florida and Houston.
At Temple Beth Shalom, the Reform Jewish congregation in Puerto Rico, Rabbi Norman Patz describes devastation and severe difficulties:
“We are deeply impressed by the courage and optimism and determination and can-do spirit of the people in San Juan and hope that it is the same throughout the island. We have seen people clearing debris and removing trees in front of their houses and on the streets, sharing stories and support. It is very heartening, and we hope that this spirit will continue as the days without electricity and water grind on.”
Hurricane Maria’s effects have impacted the congregation’s High Holiday service schedule and damaged the synagogue facility, including a water cistern that was blown into the street. The local community is watching the congregation’s Facebook page for updates.
Rabbi Michael Feshbach of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas told the Washington Post that the community managed through Rosh HaShanah and has requested curfew exemptions for Yom Kippur. About the outpouring of concern and offers of material aid received, Rabbi Feshbach says, “This is a real special place. It will be a special place again. And my hope and prayer is that should the need ever arise, we will be in a position to lend a helping hand to someone else.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott attended Rosh HaShanah services at Temple Shalom in Naples, FL, thanking the congregation for opening its doors to 200 people as a shelter during Hurricane Irma. Rabbi Adam Miller said, “We all need to acknowledge we’ve been through a traumatic event. We need to process it, reflect on it and think about the positive moments that came out of it. We all have the same goal in mind now: recovery and rebuilding. We can accomplish more when we are one strong community.”
Though 40% of her neighborhood flooded and remained underwater for as long as two weeks, Rabbi Annie Belford of Temple Sinai in Houston, TX, shares a powerful message for the High Holidays by reflecting on the traditional Unetaneh tokef liturgy and the fragility of life as a “spiritual alarm clock.” She says,
“Where is my own power in what happens to me? What control do I have over my own fate? We can’t always control what happens to us. We can’t control when the Army Corps of Engineers will release water and flood our neighborhood – but that’s what happened. We can control how we respond.”
To all those facing challenges as we begin 5778, we know you join us in praying for peace, wholeness, and health for everyone. The best ways to help those in need of assistance is to donate to these organization with whom we are partnering to provide relief in the impacted areas:
If you know of congregations that still need assistance, please email IrmaResponse@urj.org or HarveyResponse@urj.org so that the appropriate people on our team may respond. For ongoing updates, please follow the URJ on Facebook and Twitter.
Mark J. Pelavin is the chief program officer of the Union for Reform Judaism. Amy Asin is the vice president/director of Strengthening Congregations.