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September 29, 2017     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 29, 2017 A room in United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, stripped of its furniture and floors. Piles of ruined books from United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston. The congregation lost many of its prayer books and replenished them through donations. By Ben Sales (JTA)--A few weeks ago, Holly Davieswas getting ready to homeschool her kids and preparing the family for the High Holidays. When Hur- ricane Harvey hit, she helped evacuate 150 people from her neighborhood by airboat and shelter nearly 100 people in a local church. Then came the hard part. For the past three weeks, Davies has been leading a force of up to 300 volunteers who have mobilized to repair homes and synagogues in and around the heavily Jew- ish housing development of Willow Meadows. Davies has spent September coordinat- ing teams who are clearing Sheetrock, stripping floors, preventing mold and distrib- uting aid. Her volunteer operation is headquartered in Beit Ram- bam, a Sephardic synagogue that was spared flooding, and has helped rehabilitate the homes of about 100 families. But Davies is also helping lead the effort to make sure those families have a place to pray when Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday. "It's very important for the community to have their central worship place, to not feel fragmented, not only in their homes but in their community," she said. "A lot of people are staying with friends or other people in the community." As the entire Houston area recovers from Harvey, synagogues face the added difficulty of drying out their buildings days before the ho- liest and busiest days of the year. Three large synagogues sustained substantial damage from the flood, forcing them to improvise, relocate or make do with whatever floors, books and ritual objects remained intact. "There was not any part of the synagogue that was im- mune to the flooding," said Rabbi Brian Strauss of Beth Yeshurun, a Conservative congregation. "There was water covering the first seven rows of the sanctuary. You couldn't even see the seats. .'' Strauss said his s )ua ogue sustained about $3 million worth of damage. Along with cutting out floors, cabinets and Sheetrock, and disin- fecting the building--the basics of flood recovery--the synagogue will have to bury nearly 1,000 holy books that were ruined in the flood. The synagogue will set up a Harvey memorial at the burial space. United Orthodox Syna- gogues, another Houston congregation, had up to six feet of flooding in some places and also lost most of its prayer books. Congrega- tion Beth Israel had damage in its sanctuary, mechanical room and offices. No Torah scrolls were damaged at any of the congregations, as they were in high places when the flooding began. United Orthodox isn't sure if the building can ever be completely repaired, while Strauss is shooting for his building to be back to normal for the High Holidays-- in 2018. In the meantime, the synagogues have found makeshift solutions. United Orthodox's 300 -some families have been praying, meeting and eating in a large social hall that avoided the worst of the water. The synagogue has also had hundreds of new prayer books donated from publishing companies and synagogues outside Houston, including 400 machzors, or High Holidays prayer books. Beth Yeshurun has been Keep Public Notices in Newspapers MEDIA ALLIANCE www. newsmediaaliiance.org holding bar and bat mitzvah services in a nearby high school auditorium, and oth- erwise has joined with Brith Shalom, a nearby Conserva- tive synagogue that was not flooded. For the High Holi- days, Beth Yeshurun will be meeting at Lakewood Church, a Houston megachurch that's donating its space and support staff. To give the building a Jewish feel, Beth Yeshurun will be projecting photos of its artwork on the church's walls. "Everyone is being incred- ibly cooperative and patient," said Rabbi Barry Gelman of United Orthodox Synagogues. "This is an incredibly respon- sive community. Despite this, we're really looking forward to a beautiful Rosh Hashanah." The rabbis have handled their synagogues' recovery while also dealing with per- sonal crises. Both Gelman and Strauss had flooding in their houses. Gelman, along with a few dozen Jewish families, has moved to an apartment com- plex near the synagogue that he now calls a"kibbutz." Other religious families are host- (JTA)--Puerto Rico's three synagogues closed for Rosh Hashanah as Hurricane Maria pummeled the island. The synagogues, all in or nearby San Juan, canceled Wednesday evening services for the Jewish New Year and urged members to stay home, according to The Times of Israel. Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning after causing widespread de- struction on the Caribbean island nation of Dominica In Puerto Rico, which has 3.3 million residents, power out- ages were expected as strong winds ripped trees out of the ground Leaders of the Jewish community, which numbers around 2,000, said there was no choice but to cancel the Rosh Hashanah services. "In 2005, we missed the first night of Rosh Hashanah due to a tropical storm, but that was nothing compared to this monster," Diego Man- delbaum, a leader at Shaare Zedek, a Conservative con- gregation and Puerto Rico's largest synagogue, told The Times of Israel. "This is a situation that speaks for itself. This isn't even a decision it's an impossibility." Yadhira Ramirez Toro, a ing displaced neighbors who want to stay within walking distance of their synagogues. "There's a lot of expenses, there's the physical upheaval, the emotional upheaval," Gelman said. "There's a lot of uncertainty, stress. The human cost of this is really unimaginable and ongoing." Houston's Jewish com- munity has also been buoyed by outside donations. Aside from approximately $9 million raised by federations across NorthAmerica, Israel pledged $1 million in aid, and the Or- thodox Union and Chabad also sent money and volunteers. A kosher barbecue food truck from Dallas drove down and has been making up to 1,000 meals a day. Seasons, a kosher supermarket chain, and Chasdei Lev, a charitable organization in New York, sent trucks of kosher perish- able items and dry goods, including clothes. "Food is getting semi- back to normal," said Tzivia Weiss, executive director of the Houston Kashruth As- sociation. services as leader at the Reform Temple Beth Shalom, said people had been urged to stay home. "Nobody's supposed to leave their houses. Right now we're just on standby," Toro told The Times of Israel. Puerto Rico is still recov- ering from Hurricane Irma earlier this month, which led to widespread power outages on the island. Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, who runs a Chabad house in the Congregation Ohev Sha- lom's Men's Club will be hosting "A Celebration and So Long in the Sukkah" for Men's Club friends and family on Sunday, Oct. 8, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m, Join with the men for fun, food, music, and to give their best wishes to Howard Kaplan, past co-president and his family, as they prepare to move to Birmingham, Alabama. Congregation Ohev Shalom is at 613 Concourse Parkway South, Maitland, FL 32751 Please RSVP to Alan Zelt at alanzelt@gmail.com. Weiss said that while dona- tions are plentiful, people are hesitant to take them because they "want to feel like people that can go to stores and buy their own clothes." The flood has also affected what's usually troubling rab- bis the most ahead of High Holidays--their sermons. Strauss, who was going to talk about pressures affect- ing teens and young adults, will instead be discussing his family's personal experi- ence during Harvey and how to avoid fixating on mate- rial possessions. Gelman will talk about the connection between homelessness and repentance, as well as how to respond to the flood while thinking of the future. "I'll talk about long-term thinking, and not relying on short-term answers to life's difficulties," Gelman said, describing his Rosh Hasha- nah sermon on the second day. "Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the birthday of the world. We see this as an opportunity for our own rebirth." San Juan suburb of IslaVerde, was using his synagogue to provide shelter for people in need. The synagogue was built to be able to withstand a hurricane. "Our facility has a backup generator, we have food sup- plies and we'll do everything we can to share our resources with the community," Zar- chi said. "May God give us strength and may we be spared the full wrath of Maria." Howard Kaplan