Florida’s huge Jewish population was left assessing the damage this week after Hurricane Irma made landfall on Sunday, with Jewish families in Atlanta opening their doors to those fleeing the devastation.
Synagogues and other Jewish organisations 300 miles to the north helped hundreds of Florida residents find food, shelter and religious services, as the Category 4 storm battered houses and flooded streets.
Atlanta congregations were still busy providing relief to families suffering the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana in August, when millions were ordered out of Florida, ahead of one of the worst storms ever recorded.
Volunteers from Congregation Beth Jacob worked with other shuls using a shared online document to match Jews from Florida to host families in the heavily Orthodox area of Toco Hills, providing meals to ease the burden.
“We want to be able to provide a safe haven for families while they ride out the storm, and I can’t think of anything more important than that,” said Rabbi Adam Starr of Young Israel, another shul providing relief.
When they began getting dozens of enquiries, he said: “We realised this is going to be a real need, and instead of dealing with a one-off, we thought: let’s open our community.”
He added: “We would want the same help in return if we needed to leave, while knowing we would have a safe place to keep the Shabbat as well as kosher food, and if we want it for ourselves, we would want it for them as well.”
The Chabad Israeli Center in Atlanta also said it had had “hundreds” of enquiries within two days, as authorities at first advised residents evacuate, then issued mandatory orders for them to do so, with six million people leaving their homes.
Irma weakened by the time it hit Florida, by which point it had left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean, with one Jewish family on the island of Saint Martin taking shelter in a mikveh (a bath used for ritual immersion).
Chabad emissary Rabbi Moishe Chanowits, his wife Sara and their five children, all under the age of eight, sought safety as wind speeds reached 180 mph, in a building that was still under construction before Irma struck.
World Jewish Relief has a global disaster response fund and said supporters could contribute to relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which damaged up to 95 percent of buildings in some Caribbean islands.
Only last year WJR responded to a devastating hurricane which killed nearly 1,000 people in Haiti and destroyed much of the south of the country. The charity supported 600 families after the British Jewish community raised money for recovery efforts in the wake of the disaster.
Jewish volunteers help with relief efforts:
The scene right now as the joint Toco community effort welcomes hundreds of Floridians, some have been on the road for 20+ hours! Getting ready to serve thousands of meals over the next few days!
Orthodox Union Young Israel of Toco Hills
Posted by Beth Jacob Atlanta on Friday, 8 September 2017