By Jacqueline Hyman and Marcy Oster
As Hurricane Dorian moved slowly toward the Florida coast this week, Jewish organizations nationally were preparing for damage caused by storm surges and massive flooding. Dorian caused what was described as “catastrophic damage” in the Bahamas.
Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday said it spoke with its partners in Florida last week to reach out to affected communities.
“While it looks like the major Jewish population centers in South Florida have largely been spared, this is a massive and slow moving storm, and we may see a week of devastating impact move slowly up the coast with massive flooding,” JFNA said in a statement. “Nationally we are watching closely and ready to respond as we see which communities are severely impacted and need help.”
The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County announced Sunday that its offices, as well as partners the Alpert Jewish Family Service, Mandel JCC, Boynton Beach, Mandel JCC Palm Beach Gardens and Meyer Preparatory, are closed through Tuesday in anticipation of the hurricane’s effects.
The federation said in a statement posted on Facebook and updated Monday that it is in “constant contact” with local Jewish agencies, community partners and synagogues, as well as local government and emergency officials, to prepare for the storm and mobilize service to the community as needed.
The storm was lowered from a Category 5 storm to a Category 4 on Monday. However, the National Hurricane Center issued hurricane, storm surge and tropical storm watches and warnings from the Atlantic coast of Florida northward into Georgia. Evacuations were ordered for parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
“Although it remains uncertain just how close the eye of Dorian will get to the Florida east coast, the threat of damaging winds and life-threatening storm surge remains high,” the National Weather Service office in Melbourne, Florida, said Monday morning. “There will be considerable impacts and damage to coastal areas, with at least some effects felt inland as well.”
Over half a million Jews live in South Florida and areas such as Palm Beach.
At press time Tuesday, millions are under evacuation orders up and down the East Coast.
Nechama – Jewish Response to Disaster is preparing for relief efforts by driving two trucks from its headquarters in Minneapolis to Atlanta. Atlanta will serve as a staging area for volunteers and supplies until it becomes clear where Hurricane Dorian will hit the hardest, said executive director David Kaplan.
“Really, our focus is on doing tikkun olam,” said Kaplan. “We’ll help anyone at all who needs help but generally we prioritize households that are low or lower income.”
Nechama will go into communities from North Carolina to Florida to do hands-on relief such as tree removal, debris removal, and gutting houses that have been damaged by floodwater, said Kaplan.
The Israeli nongovernmental organization IsraAID said Friday that it was planning to send an emergency team as Dorian headed for Florida’s east coast.
“Our teams are monitoring the situation and preparing to send an emergency response team if needed,” IsraAID said. “We have extensive recent experience in Florida and the wider region.”
Meanwhile, Chabad houses along Florida’s east coast have been preparing for the storm for several days, including boarding up the buildings, purchasing food and making arrangements for the protection of their Torah scrolls.
Chabad emissaries Rabbi Berl and Chanie Goldman, and Rabbi Aharon Chaim and Pessie Notik in a statement called on the Jewish community and the general public to “stay informed, take this seriously and be prepared.” They ended their message by offering to make contact with anyone who lives alone and to bring them to Chabad for food, shelter, and companionship during the storm. NO ONE should be alone during a hurricane or tropical storm.”
Anticipating Dorian making landfall, Rabbi Andrew Jacobs, of Ramat Shalom in Plantation, Fla., tweeted a prayer on Aug. 30.
“We do ask that You help us find the inner strength needed as we seek shelter from the storm,” it reads in part. “With this strength, we’ll prepare our homes and businesses to face the wind, rain and waves.”
Jacqueline Hyman is a Washington Jewish Week staff writer. Marcy Oster writes for Jewish Telegraphic Agency.