Gulf Coast Jews Seek Ways to Commemorate High Holy Days
Like many of the houses of faith in coastal Mississippi, Beth Israel Synagogue was heavily damaged and is seeking ways to commemorate the High Holy Days.
Bad luck keeps following Stephen Richer.
Last year at the start of Rosh Hashana, a hurricane evacuation sent him and a cantor at his tiny Biloxi, Miss., synagogue on an odyssey across the state to find a congregation where they could mark the Jewish New Year.
This year, as the High Holy Days begin Monday night, Richer will once again be searching for a spiritual home. His Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, is one of many across the Gulf Coast that have been shuttered by extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina.
"I'm very happy to have this year over," Richer said. "We've had a lot of tragedy."
The 10-day period of repentance and renewal, among the most important in the Jewish calendar, arrives as Jewish evacuees are scattered throughout the country, their homes destroyed, their jobs gone and their future unclear.
A new start, spiritually and otherwise
Victims say the generosity of religious leaders in cities where they've sought refuge has helped ease discomfort about celebrating the holidays in an alien environment. Orthodox Jews have found housing for evacuees near congregations so they can observe the Jewish prohibition against driving on the High Holy Days. One Florida rabbi packed his Cessna with kosher meat and cheese, Sabbath candles and challah and flew the supplies to Biloxi, where members of Beth Israel may hold services at a military base. Other Jewish groups have sent prayerbooks, while Baptist, Roman Catholic and Unitarian churches have offered space for services.MSNBC
Meanwhile, Touro Synagogue, as were other synagogues in New Orleans, was flooded but all the Torah scrolls were undamaged, rescued, and are safe.
About 10,000 Jews lived in the New Orleans area and Eric Stillman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, has been trying to track them. Working out of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, he has contacted about 1,400 of the 3,600 families who were in his organization's database. Synagogue leaders have started their own online lists, but many families still have not been reached.
It's hard to predict, said Stillman, who fled New Orleans with his wife and two children. Some people have said they're not going to come back. ... Some people have already returned.
Those able to get home have found their synagogues with smashed roofs, shattered windows, flooded basements, and mold and mildew growing in sanctuaries. As Katrina battered the region, anxiety spread among Jewish leaders about the Torah scrolls inside the buildings. The scrolls, which Jews believe contain the word of God, are the holiest objects in Judaism.
About a week following the storm, a caravan of Jewish volunteers, accompanied by armed officers from outside New Orleans, went into the city to retrieve the scrolls. Some members of the mission had to swim through floodwater to reach their buildings, but all the Torahs were retrieved intact.MSNBC
At this time of the holiest days of the year for Jews, my thoughts and prayers are with those who have been displaced and whose synagoguess have suffered such damage. May the New Year bring joy and goodness to all who will be commemorating Rosh Hashanah this coming week.
I was to start this month learning more about the Jewish faith at Springhill Avenue Temple in Mobile AL. Like so many plans, these had to be deferred because of Hurricane Katrina. In July, I had bought a Tanakh and was planning on getting a Chumash once I started at Springhill.