In one of the hardest hit areas of Houston, two jet skis pass on flooded roads.

Houston Jewish Relief Info


Don’t just sit there – your prayers and donations are needed!

Please help our brothers and sisters in Houston hit hard by this storm. Many of us here in Los Angeles have friends or family that are stranded in and around Houston. And the storm is still raging. (Below are pictures from their family’s streets.)

Jewish families that are in public shelters don’t have easy access to Kosher food, and other Jewish services.

Many might be stranded, homeless for months.

Hundreds of volunteers are needed to help in the aftermath of the storms.

From a distance it is a challenge to know how to help – but as Jews we believe that Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh l Zeh – all of us are responsible for the safety and well being of everyone else.

Please increase your prayers and please donate locally in Houston to help!

Click here for a list of contact numbers and places to donate.

You can send us updates if you have them to: relief@picoshul.org

This Jewish neighborhood in Houston is several feet under water – and its not getting better. August 27, 2017.

View from the the front lawn of a Jewish family’s home in Houston, August 27, 2017.

 

 

A rescue helicopter hovers in the background as an elderly woman and her poodle use an air mattress to float above flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey while waiting to be rescued from Scarsdale Boulevard in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Hurricane Harvey hits Jewish Houston hard. Here’s how you can help.


Even as Hurricane Harvey continued to soak Southeast Texas with unprecedented floods, the local Jewish community was already planning the relief effort that would kick in now that can be safely distributed.

The storm dumped more than six months’ worth of rain between Aug. 25 and Aug. 27, much of it in areas where Houston’s Jewish community is concentrated, according to Taryn Baranowski, chief marketing officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. She said more than two-thirds of the area’s Jewish population lives in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm, including Meyerland, Willow Meadows and Memorial.

In response to flooding, the Jewish Federations of North America partnered with the Houston Federation to set up the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, raising money to support the Greater Houston Jewish community as it recovers from the devastation of the storm.

Click here to learn more and donate to the Jewish Federations’ efforts.

A recent demographic survey by the Federation indicated that 63,700 people live in Jewish households in the Greater Houston area. More than a quarter of that population are seniors, including 5,900 who are age 75 and over.

The Houston Federation is coordinating its response with other local Jewish organizations, including the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston and Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Services, an assisted living home.

Separately, one of the congregations washed out by Hurricane Harvey, Congregation Beth Yeshurun, has opened relief funds to help cover losses to the massive synagogue complex and its attached day school.

Click here to donate to the synagogue, and here to donate to the day school.

The United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston also flooded, with damages potentially in the millions of dollars to its campus. Robert Levy, a member of the synagogue’s executive committee, said the storm was “just a disaster for the community.”

“While we have been through devastation before, this one is just an order of magnitude more extensive,” he told the Journal.

Click here to donate to the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 28, the day after the storm ended, a team from the Israeli disaster relief organization IsraAID was already on its way to Houston. In a fundraising email, the group’s co-CEO, Yotam Polizer, said IsraAID would provide debris removal assistance, psychosocial support and childcare services to those impacted by the storm.

Click here to learn more and donate to IsraAID’s efforts

In the Houston area, several Chabad rabbis launched a joint fundraising effort to provide kosher meals to those who have evacuated and to help families recover after the floodwaters recede.

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky of Bellaire, Tex., near Houston, acted as a spokesperson for that effort. He spoke on the phone from his home, where neighbors and community members had gathered to begin cleanup and repair after 6 inches of water flooded the ground floor.

“In terms of the number of Jewish families who were impacted by the storm, it’s certainly in the thousands,” he said. “So this is anywhere from minor damage to the home to losing everything.”

Click here to learn more and support Chabad’s efforts.

Zaklikofsky said some members of the congregation he operates, the Shul of Bellaire, had seen three or four feet of water flooding their homes. He said that efforts to help Jews in extreme physical need were part of Chabad’s central mission.

“Before you can be there for somebody spiritually, you need to be there for them materially, physically emotionally, and help them restore stability and restore their dignity, first and foremost,” he said.

Other funds supporting Houston’s Jewish community and beyond:

Union for Reform Judaism

Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center in Houston

NECHAMA – Jewish Response to Disaster

Greater Houston Community Foundation

Residents wade through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 27. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Dozens of Jewish families displaced by ‘catastrophic’ flooding in Houston


Dozens of Jewish families in Houston were either evacuated or moved to the second floors of their homes due to flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the local Jewish Family Service said.

Some 150 neighborhood blocks in the city that are home to members of the Jewish community have been damaged in floods as part of the hurricane, the JFS said in a conference call with community leaders, the Texas Jewish Herald-Voice reported.

Many of the families affected by the floods also were flooded out in 2016 and 2015. Some of the families have flood insurance and others do not, according to the report.

The Evelyn Rubenstein JCC reported suffering flood damage. Prior to the hurricane it had collected emergency supplies and will serve as a distribution center for the community. The Jewish Family Service also reported flood damage, as did at least three Houston synagogues.

More rainfall and flooding are expected in the coming days.

The Jewish Federations of North America opened an emergency relief fund to support communities and individuals in Houston, San Antonio, Galveston, Corpus Christi and other areas in Texas that have been hammered by Hurricane Harvey.

The hurricane first made landfall on Friday evening near Corpus Christi, about 200 miles southwest of Houston.

At least three people have been confirmed dead in the flooding.

On Monday morning, Harvey’s center was entering the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues in southeastern Texas and flash flood emergencies are in effect for portions of this area,” it warned.

The update said that an additional 12 to 25 inches of rain are expected to accumulate through Friday over the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana, with some isolated areas receiving up to 50 inches of rain, including in the Houston-Galveston metropolitan area. It also warned of possible tornadoes over the next day.

More than two feet of rain fell between late Saturday night and late Sunday night. City residents who were not in a safe place were evacuated from their homes by boats and helicopters. Many were taken to makeshift shelters, since the emergency shelters prepared for the natural disaster proved not to be enough.

Houston’s two main airports reportedly suspended commercial flights and two hospitals evacuated their patients. Freeways throughout the city were under water, with some flood waters nearly reaching the bottom of road signs.

President Donald Trump will visit the stricken area on Tuesday, his spokesman said.

Baton Rouge flood: How you can help


A flood is devastating Baton Rouge, La., and the organized Jewish world is lining up support for the rescue and relief effort in the region.

Here are ways you can help:

The Jewish Federations of Noth America

To donate and learn more click here.

Red Cross

To donate and learn more click here.

Find open shelters

Contact your local Red Cross

Download the Red Cross Emergency App by texting “GETEMERGENCY” to 90999

United Way of Southeast Louisiana

To donate and learn more click here.

To donate by check, please make it payable to United Way of Southeast Louisiana. Write Flood Relief in the memo line and mail to:

United Way of Southeast Louisiana
ATTN: Flood Relief
2515 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA 70119

Items are being accepted at the following locations: Southshore – 2515 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70119, 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM; Northshore – 411 W Coleman Ave, Hammond, LA 70403, 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Please note there is not a need for donations of clothing and furniture at this time.  Click here for a list of items they are accepting.

Oklahoma tornado: How you can help


Jewish groups are joining the effort to help those displaced by the tornado in suburban Oklahoma City.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, announced Tuesday that his organization will collect donations and distribute them to the American Red Cross and others on the ground in Oklahoma.

“We are numb with grief, and yet inspired by the heroic resilience of the people of Oklahoma,” Jacobs said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by this horrific tragedy.

“As other needs arise, perhaps including volunteers to assist with the clean-up and rebuilding, we stand ready to help in any way possible.”

The Jewish Federations of North America also has started a fund to aid the relief effort of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City.

[Know of other Jewish relief efforts? Please comment below with information]

“Our hearts go out to all those who were in the path of this disaster and who are grieving the loss of their loved ones,” said Michael Siegal, chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees. “This was a terrible tragedy. The destruction of an elementary school filled with students and teachers was especially painful.”

B’nai B’rith International has opened its Flood, Tornado and Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund.

Meanwhile, the Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma has opened its building as a shelter and is collecting supplies for those displaced by the tornado that hit Moore.

Wild weather slams Israel


Rain and high winds have caused damage and power outages throughout Israel.

Storms raged across the country and temperatures dropped to below normal on Monday. Flooding closed the Herzliya train station and the main Azrielli shopping mall in Modiin, while traffic lights went out in cities. The power outages have been caused mostly due to falling tree branches.

Hospitals are preparing to deal with hypothermia from the expected lower temperatures.

The wild weather is expected to continue throughout the week.

Snow falling on Mount Hermon caused the closure of its ski slopes and visitors center. More snow is expected for Jerusalem and possibly the West Bank beginning Wednesday.

The water level in the Sea of Galilee rose 2.5 inches from Sunday morning to Monday morning.

israel

The Mediterranean Sea on a stormy day at Nitzanim beach, Israel, on Jan. 7. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

January shatters mark for Israel’s wettest month


Rainfall in the month of January broke Israeli records.

There were 29 days with some rain during the month, which broke the mark of 25 wet days in January 1947, as recorded by the national Meteorological Service. January 1969 and February 1992 had 24 days with some rainfall.

In most of northern Israel there were 26 wet days, but Nahariyah and the Galilee had 29 wet days, leading to the record.

In addition, the water level in the Sea of Galilee rose by 55 centimeters in January. Despite the significant rise, however, the Galilee’s water level is at 213.11 centimeters, which is still 11 centimeters below the sea’s lower red line, or the upper danger line.

Israel has suffered from low rainfall and drought for the past five years.

Thailand Chabad House again damaged by floods


A recently renovated Chabad House in Thailand has been ravaged again by flooding.

Heavy rains and flooding this week once again put the Chabad House in Koh Samui under water. The center recently completed a $50,000 renovation after floods in November destroyed electrical equipment, furniture, books and computers.

Rabbi Menachem Goldshmid told Chabad.org on Monday that he managed to remove the center’s Torah scrolls before water covered the first floor.

Goldshmid, who runs the center with his wife, Sara Hinda, said he working to help members of the local Jewish community, as well as the dozens of Israeli backpackers who visit the area each year.

The rabbi has not yet been able to enter the building to assess the damage.

Australian Jews evacuating in face of huge floods


At least a dozen Jewish families in northeastern Australia have been evacuated from their homes as a major flood ripped through Queensland this week, killing at least 12 people.

More than 40 people are still missing, and one Jewish man remains unaccounted for near the rural town of Toowoomba, which was flattened Monday by what police described as an “inland instant tsunami.”

The bulk of Queensland’s 6,000 Jews live in the state’s capital, Brisbane, which was bracing for its river to peak early Thursday morning as analysts revised up their predictions of the damage bill to $13 million, or 1 percent of the gross domestic product.

Three-quarters of the state, an area larger than California and Texas, has been declared a disaster zone, with Premier Anna Bligh describing it as the “worst natural disaster in our history.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard deployed the army to assist in the rescue efforts.

Jason Steinberg, the president of the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, said that “A number of Jewish families have been impacted, a lot are reporting difficulties. We are still trying to get details. There have been Jewish people evacuated from several towns. We are trying to assess their needs.

“Homes are being evacuated as a precautionary measure. It’s an amazing sight,” said Steinberg, of Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city. “Where you once had a clear road, it’s a lake. The major arterial roads around Brisbane are now cut off.”

He added that “The main shul is OK. The second shul is fine and the temple is fine.”

Rabbi Levi Jaffe of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation transferred four Torah scrolls to his house, which is on higher ground.

“It’s just a precaution,” said the Chabad rabbi. “In the 1974 floods, the water didn’t reach the shul. We’re hopeful it won’t.”

Jaffe said services have been canceled this week but he would be holding prayers for the 200-member families at his house.

“We are bracing. They’re saying the worst is yet to come,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I stocked up to an extent, but at the supermarket the shelves are completely empty of basic staples. People are quite concerned; there’s a bit of a siege mentality.”

The rabbi said he and his sons helped evacuate a Jewish couple from their high-rise inner-city apartment Wednesday afternoon amid fears that the electricity would be cut, leaving the wheelchair-using woman unable to escape.

“The chances of water reaching them was very high and their family in Melbourne was really worried, so we helped them evacuate,” Jaffe said.

Ari Heber of the response unit at Queensland Jewish Community Services said the agency has identified a dozen homes in Brisbane that it believes will go under.

“We are not aware of anyone officially missing, we just don’t know where people are at the moment and communications are difficult,” he said.

“Everyone is frightened. It’s quite scary, the volume of water the water is quite high and the speed is phenomenal. Tomorrow [Thursday] is going to be the worst, everyone has time to plan. It’s a very surreal situation just waiting for the water to arrive.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Dr. Danny Lamm called on Jewish Australians to give generously to assist victims of the floods.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them [the casualties] and their families”, he said, appealing to the Jewish community “to dig deep.”

In Sydney, a food kitchen run by Chabad began preparing supplies to be transferred to Jewish families in Queensland.

Rabbi Moshe Loebenstein of the Melbourne-based Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia said he was organizing Melbourne and Sydney families to host affected Jewish families and was sending up dry goods, clothing and towels.

JDC to help Pakistani flood victims


The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will aid victims of the floods in Pakistan.

JDC is collecting funds to provide Pakistani flood victims with food, clothing, medicine and other necessities.

Flooding began about three weeks ago and has affected over 170 million people, according to the Associated Press.

“By harnessing our vast experience in international disaster relief and tapping our network of partners on the ground to asses the most pressing needs, JDC will quickly respond to those affected by the floods in Pakistan,” JDC CEO Steven Schwager said in a statement. “Guided by the principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world), we’ll help ensure that the most vulnerable are reached.”

The organization is coordinating efforts with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and Interaction in Washington, D.C.

JDC provides aid in countries around the world to immediate and long-term support for victims of natural and man-made disaster. It also helped Pakistanis after the 2005 and 2008 earthquakes and implemented relief efforts in Haiti following the earthquake this year.

Briefs: Questions women can’t ask the rabbi, cartoon Torah, parking tickets, Latino Sukkot


You Can’t Ask a Rabbi THAT…

Asking your rabbi a question about your period or your sex life might seem odd, but couples who observe the laws of family purity — where they refrain from sexual contact during and after a woman’s menstrual cycle — occasionally need to provide intimate details to male rabbis.

Questions often involve irregular periods or midcycle staining, which may or may not render a woman a niddah, off limits to her husband. Sometimes, the questions are more emotional, dealing with miscarriage, menopause and infertility.

For the past eight years tens of thousands of women from Israel and the United States have opted to bring these questions to yoatzot (advisers), women trained to either answer the questions or act as a liaison between the women and rabbis.

About 50 women have undertaken two years of study at Nishmat’s Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women (http://www.nishmat.net), and have answered 70,000 phone calls on a hotline and thousands more questions on a Web site (http://www.yoatzot.org/index.php).

This weekend, Bracha Rutner, a Talmud teacher and yoetzet in Riverdale, N.Y., will be in Los Angeles to talk with girls at YULA and Shalhevet Orthodox high schools, and, on Shabbat, will address the topic of the Jewish view of love and romance at Young Israel of Century City (YICC). She will also join with doctors and other professionals at YICC on Sunday morning to talk about the intersections of Jewish law and women’s health issues, including the use of birth control and hormones.

As demonstrated by Rutner’s topics, the yoatzot have broadened their role beyond dealing with halachic minutiae. Nishmat in Jerusalem and Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center in New York have dispatched the yoatzot to communities across the country to provide proactive education on women’s health issues and open up conversations on women and sexuality. Online courses prepare new brides and refresh long-married couples on the laws and meaning of family purity.

Nishmat also has a Web site (http://www.jewishwomenshealth.org) for medical and halachic professionals.

“These are brilliant women, who are so well trained, and can speak to other women in a way men cannot,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of YICC, where yoatzot have spoken twice before. “The important thing is they encourage women to observe this mitzvah and make them more comfortable with it, because they can explain things and talk to them, woman to woman.”

Bracha Rutner will keynote “Health and Halakha,” Sunday, Nov. 2, at Young Israel of Century City, 9317 W. Pico Blvd, 9 a.m.-noon. Topics include “Hormones, Halakha and Beyond” and “Medicine, Mikvah and Me.” For more information, call (310) 273-6954 or visit http://www.yicc.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Outreach Builds Latino and Jewish Bonds

Hundreds of Latino evangelical Christians gathered for Sukkot services at Sinai Temple in Westwood on Oct. 19. The program, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Esencia de Judaismo, drew a similar-sized crowd to the Westwood congregation in 2007.

“Our goal is to bridge cultural and linguistic barriers to develop mutual understanding and respect between the Latino and Jewish communities,” said Randall Brown, AJC’s director of interreligious and Israel affairs.

Esencia de Judaismo, which received a $150,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles in August, is a three-year AJC program that seeks to train 500 Los Angeles-area Latino pastors about Judaism. AJC scholars and Latino rabbis from North and Central America head the effort.

Brown said mutual respect is the key to the program. “We’re not trying to convert anyone; we’re simply educating,” he said.

Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe welcomed participants to this year’s Sukkot serice, which was held on the last night of the holiday. “All of us can join hands and in our own way worship God together,” he said.

Gil Artzyeli, a Israeli deputy consul general in Los Angeles who also served in Bogotá, Mexico City and Madrid, addressed the crowd in fluent Spanish.

“We are all immigrants,” he said. “You’re here for your love of Israel, for your love of God.”

Israel is important to evangelical Christians, said Dr. Manuel Tigerino, president and founder of Latin University of Theology. “Israel is the place especially chosen by God,” he said.

Many of those involved in Esencia de Judaismo are leading Latino pastors within Pentecostalism, a diverse evangelical movement that places special emphasis on speaking in tongues and spiritual healing.

“Latino Pentecostals are the fastest-growing ethnic demographic and have emerged as a major force in the religious and political landscape,” AJC Los Angeles Executive Director Seth Brysk said.

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Yom Tov Parking Tickets to Be Reviewed

District 5 City Councilman Jack Weiss has issued an apology to constituents who received parking tickets during the last days of Yom Tov. In September, Weiss’ office had announced efforts to relax enforcement of street cleaning, time limit and preferential parking restrictions for certain neighborhoods during the High Holy Days.

Weiss is instructing people who received citations to e-mail field deputy Maya Zutler at maya.zutler@lacity.org with the citation number, the date of the citation and contact information included.

“The office will then work with the Department of Transportation and the Parking Enforcement Bureau to investigate the citations and cancel the ones that were issued incorrectly,” Zutler said.

Zutler warned that the process could take some time and asked for patience in the matter. “We assure you that these citations will all be investigated,” she said.

— LF

Third and Fairfax Celebrates Diamond Anniversary

The Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles is turning to the public for help in celebrating its 75th anniversary next year.

“We know that tourists and locals alike have great memories of their times at the Market,” said Ilysha Buss, Farmers Market marketing manager. “We have our own extensive archive to draw upon as we prepare to celebrate 75 years in Los Angeles, but we know that many of those who cherish the Market have their own memories, stories, photographs and other memorabilia, too. We are asking one and all to share their memories of the Market with us.”

Couples courting, graduations, novels and screenplays written, it’s all happened at the Famers Market, Buss said.

The market is asking for photographs, stories (no more than 250 words) and other memories to be sent to 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 90036 or e-mailed to memories@farmersmarketla.com. Throughout 2009, the Farmers Market will display the public’s contributions on memory boards created specifically for its 75th anniversary year-long celebration and on a special section of their Web site at www.farmersmarketla.com.

— LF

Cartoon Parshat Now on Web


Teens who know little about the Torah can now turn to G-dcast.com, a new weekly Web cartoon about each week’s Torah portion has just launched.

“Each episode features a different celebrated or emerging Jewish voice in the arts or education, and each one has a free curriculum guide for teachers and parents,” said site founder Sarah Lefton, the San Francisco-based entrepreneur behind the clothing company Jewish Fashion Conspiracy.

National Jewish Book Award-winner Dara Horn and Chasidic hip hop artist Y-Love are just a couple of the names that will be featured in the new series. The episodes vary widely and include anything from country songs to hip-hop tracks to “mystical musings on the nature of the universe.”

Each Webcast runs no more than four minutes and is available as a podcast.

Lefton, who grew up in South Carolina, said she started the site because she knows children in certain parts of the United States have little or no access to Jewish education.

“We started G-dcast to try to bring literacy to these populations, ” Lefton said.

— LF

Local Schools Help Sderot Kids Play it Safe

Schools across the country are participating in the Jewish National Fund’s “Let Us Play” campaign to support the construction of Israel’s largest indoor playground in Sderot.

“Our hope is that the children in this country, who live in a much safer world than the children of Sderot, will join together to raise funds through sponsorship and donations to make a safe place for the children in Sderot,” said Bob Levine, JNF Vice President of Education.

JNF’s Education Program Manager Michelle Beller said 127 schools nationwide have opted to participate in the campaign, which will take place on Thursday, Nov. 13. Four L.A.-area Jewish educational organizations — Temple Aliyah Department of Early Childhood Education, Wilshire Boulevard Temple Religious School, Temple Ahavat Shalom Religious School and the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles — are among those participating.

Students at the schools are asking family and friends to sponsor their participation in games, sports and other activities that will be played on the playground.

The money raised will go toward helping build the $5 million, 20,000-square-foot facility in Sderot, complete with an indoor soccer field, basketball and volleyball courts, a rock-climbing wall, and a media center with a movie room and video games. The state-of-the-art facility will also feature three therapy rooms to help children who have experienced trauma.

JNF plans to recognize schools that raise more than $1,800 with a plaque that will be permanently displayed on Sderot’s new playground.

— LF

Noah’s deadly lack of curiosity


It is a question that has dogged Noah for millennia. When the Torah characterizes him as a tzadik (righteous person) in his generation, is this an objective measure of his character?

Was Noah someone who would have been recognized as a tzadik in any generation? Or was Noah only a tzadik in a relative sense, only in comparison to those around him?

One midrashic teaching, taking the latter route, compares God’s selection of Noah to the story of a lone traveler finding another lone soul on the road, and engaging him in discussion simply because there was no on else to talk to. As Dr. Aviva Zornberg summarized this midrash: “God chooses Noah not because he has achieved significant wisdom or virtue, but because he seeks to convey to someone the knowledge of Himself.”

Walking all by himself on a path that everyone else in the world had abandoned, Noah became the object of God’s attention. The midrash isn’t, I don’t think, being harsh or unfair to Noah. It is just sharing, in candid terms, its read of a Biblical character who is an essentially decent person, but who also possesses some very deep personality flaws.

How might we describe Noah’s most basic personality flaw? Zornberg calls it the flaw of being incurious.

To understand what being “incurious” means, we need only recall that within his biblical story, we never find Noah — not even once — expressing curiosity about why his corrupt neighbors live the terrible way that they do. The Torah doesn’t record one interaction between him and any other human being prior to their all being wiped out in the flood. The rabbis of the midrash presume that some sort of conversation between Noah and his neighbors must invariably have ensued once the ark started going up in his front yard, but in projecting what those conversations may have sounded like, they suggest dialogues consistently characterized by Noah’s lack of curiosity about his fellows.

In one rabbinic passage (Tanchuma 5), the neighbors give Noah the perfect opening for a substantive discussion. “What are all these cedar trees for?” the neighbors ask. This was Noah’s moment to talk about his understanding of Divine expectations of human behavior, and to ask them why they were behaving in ways so displeasing to God. But instead, he simply responds, “God is bringing a flood to the world and told me to build an ark so that my family and I can escape.” Their question to him opens a door, but in his lack of curiosity about them, all Noah comes forward with is a superficial response that dead-ends the conversation.

In a similar text (Sanhedrin 108b), Noah is actually portrayed as rebuking his contemporaries, but his words are described as being “as tough as lightning bolts,” and they wind up eliciting only derision and scorn, and not any self-reflection. This was a generation that lacked any insight into itself, a generation that desperately needed someone to sketch out for them the contours of a moral framework within which to evaluate themselves. But Noah had no interest in really talking with them. He was not curious about what made them tick.

The Zohar provides the most dramatic criticism of all of Noah’s incuriosity: When Noah exited the ark and saw that the world had been destroyed, he began to cry before God and he said,” Master of the universe! You are called ‘the Compassionate One.’ You ought to have had compassion upon Your creations!”

God responded to him, “Stupid shepherd. Now you say this?! Why did you not say this at the time [that I told you to build the ark]?… Now you open your mouth to speak before Me?!”

Had only Noah been curious about the people around him when they were yet alive, the sequence of events might have played out quite differently.

What’s most fascinating about this critique of Noah is that there is something rather counter-cultural about it. One of the values that our environment ingrains in us is that curiosity about others is bad. We are taught that we should rein in our curiosity about others, lest we become nosy and start asking people personal questions that are none of our business — questions that might even prove embarrassing to them. Just say hello to people, smile, and be sure to only ask “how are you?” when it’s clear that no substantial response is expected. Curiosity is just plain impolite.

And yet, curiosity is the fountainhead of human mutual assistance. If I suspend my curiosity, I will never ask what’s going on with you. And if I never ask, you will never tell me. And if you never tell me, I will never understand. And if I do not understand, I can never be of any help to you. There are also times when we must ask, when through our failure to ask we effectively consign people around us to a fate comparable to the fate of Noah’s generation. To be sure, we need to develop enough honesty with ourselves to be able to distinguish between being “desiring-to-be-helpful” curious and “just-plain-nosy” curious. That’s another piece of our internal work. But if we don’t do the work and hone our skills, people will get washed away right from under our noses.

Noah was righteous in his generation. But not sufficiently curious to actually save any of them.

Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai-David Judea (www.bnaidavid.com), a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood

Picking up the pieces


“The Sabbath Day: One should not forget it;
Its memory is like a savory fragrance.
The dove found respite on it [the Sabbath],
And on it the weary of spirit shall rest.”
— Translated from “Yom Shabbaton,” Shabbat Zemirot liturgy, composed by R’ Judah HaLevi (d. 1140)

The dove sent by Noah to see if the floodwaters had abated found its resting spot on dry land on the Sabbath day, according to the great Spanish poet Judah HaLevi.

What did Noah do once he disembarked from the Ark? He offered a sacrifice on an altar, which provided a “savory fragrance” to God (Genesis 8:21). The poet is engaging in clever wordplay, because the Hebrew words for respite (mano’ach) and fragrance (nicho’ach) are etymologically related.

As a matter of fact, Noah’s very name foreshadows both the respite that the dove — and all mankind — finally found, as well as the fragrance of his sacrifice. Noah in Hebrew is derivative of both words. Indeed, the rabbis in the Midrash disagree as to why Noah was so named: Was it because the Ark would come to “rest” (mano’ach) under his tutelage, or was it because he would provide a “savory fragrance” (nicho’ach) with his sacrifice?

What difference does it make why he was named Noah? Why couldn’t it have been for both reasons?

The sages are debating what provides greater consolation to the community of man after that community has been destroyed. One consolation is that God’s anger doesn’t last forever; eventually the flood’s rains abate and dry land once again emerges. As long as one is patient, there will always be a time for peace.

However, the other view sees a much greater consolation than a simple abatement of Divine retribution. After all, of what benefit is it to know that God’s anger is not permanent if mankind is incapable of rebuilding after all the carnage and destruction? The greater consolation is rather that once all the violent destruction is over, man is capable of picking up the shattered pieces of his life and rebuilding.

This is what was represented by Noah’s sacrifice. Not only did Noah find dry land that enabled him to physically disembark from the Ark, that icon of mankind’s destruction. He was also able to emotionally distance himself from that trapped existence in the Ark. He found within himself the ability to leave behind the pain and to rebuild — to rebuild his altar, his community, his entire way of life.

He managed to find a place again in his life where God was welcome. He could have spent the rest of his life in anger, bitter at God for having wrought all the devastation and loss. But he knew that approach was pointless, and that he needed to instead rebuild and restore humanity.

Noah’s behavior after the flood represents the ultimate consolation to mankind.

Esther Jungreis is fond of saying that the term “Holocaust survivor” is a misnomer. Jews didn’t “survive” the Shoah, they triumphed over it. Whereas so many would have given up after all the death and devastation, Jewish individuals and whole communities picked up the pieces of their lives and rebuilt.

Out of the death camps emerged Jewish schools. Out of the ashes of the crematoria blossomed a Jewish state.

The greatest consolation is the indomitable human drive to build and rebuild, to live at all costs. This is why no nation, no matter how formidable or foreboding to the Jewish people, will ever be able to keep us down. No matter what, we will always rebuild our altars, and offer that savory fragrance, just like Noah.

Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh Hebrew Academy and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union West Coast Region.

A Hard Rain


 

In the winter of 1861-1862, the skies in California let loose, unleashing torrents of water around the state. In Los Angeles, rain fell for 28 straight days, pushing the Los Angeles River higher and higher until a waist-high wall of water jumped its banks, ripping away everything in its path.

My great-great-grandfather, Isaias Hellman, who was 19 at the time, got caught in the turgid waters. He had arrived from Bavaria three years earlier — part of a group of Jews who left their small town in Reckendorf — to work as a clerk in a dry-goods store owned by his two older cousins. The store was set in a row of shops in Bell’s Row, a two-story block-long commercial building on the southeast corner of Aliso and Los Angeles streets. The Row had long been the favored location for the pueblo’s sizable group of Jewish merchants. Many early settlers who would later play crucial roles in transforming the small town into a modern American city had their first stores there, including Isaiah and Samuel Hellman, Solomon Lazard, Philip Sichel, Wolf Kalisher, Henry Wartenberg and others.

The surging waters from the Los Angeles River rushed through the small downtown, carrying driftwood, mud and sand as it enveloped the row of shops. Hellman, who not long before had made his home in the store’s back room, rushed with his two cousins to salvage any goods they could. As the three men started to grab shoes, books, tobacco and other goods, the saturated adobe walls started to crumble and they were forced to flee.

When the floodwaters receded, Los Angeles had been transformed. The façade of the Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, which had stood sentinel in the Plaza for 40 years, melted away, its straw and mud bricks unable to withstand the water’s onslaught. The cascading river ripped out thousands of grapevines. Sand lay a foot thick over once-fertile orchards. Roads became so impassable that Los Angeles went without mail for five consecutive weeks.

The entire state suffered that year. From early November to the end of January, 37 inches of rain fell in San Francisco. Rain and melting snow turned the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys into an inland sea, 250-300 miles long and 20-60 miles wide. When the rain stopped, it made the news: “On Tuesday last the sun made its appearance,” The Los Angeles Star noted. “The phenomenon lasted several minutes and was witnessed by a great number of persons.”

The heavy rains were followed by two years of drought, years of sun and wind so relentless the grasses that covered the valleys and gentle hills running from Los Angeles to the ocean 20 miles away turned a brittle brown. Most of the cattle that roamed the hills began to die and travelers taking the stage from the port of San Pedro to Los Angeles saw hills heaped with decaying carcasses. The number of cows in the county dropped from 70,000 to 20,000.

Weather has always been an important determinant in Los Angeles’ history. The twin effects of floods and drought from 1861-1864 completely finished off whatever remained of the rancho way of life, where dons reigned over thousands of acres of land and huge herds of cattle. Many of the Spanish Californios were forced to sell their land to stay solvent, opening the way for the rise of the Yankee economy. The disasters also ruined many small businesses, including that of Hellman’s cousins. It changed the city’s architecture as businessmen replaced adobe buildings with brick structures.

But those living in Southern California regarded the disasters as aberrant and moved quickly to repair the damage. The Hellman cousins and other affected merchants relocated their businesses and learned an important lesson about frontier life: to succeed, one had to be flexible and change with the ever-evolving economy. Soon boosters began promoting the region as a place like no other, blessed by sun and fertile soil and ease of life. The rains hit hard again in 1884, when more than 38 inches caused widespread flooding, but by that time most of America thought of Los Angeles as a Mediterranean paradise. Trainloads of settlers poured in, lured by the promise of a golden life. By 1890, more than 50,000 people lived in the city.

By that time my great-great-grandfather had spent 31 years in Los Angeles and had watched it transform from a dusty pueblo where fewer than 300 people spoke English to a bustling city. As the city grew, he prospered, eventually becoming one of the region’s largest landowners and a major investor in the city’s water and gas companies. He was president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank for 45 years, lending funds to Harrison Gray Otis to buy the Los Angeles Times and to Henry Huntington to build the trolley cars that eventually crisscrossed Los Angeles. He helped build the city’s first temple, B’nai B’rith.

But from the time of the 1862 rains, he always kept a close eye on the weather, frequently noting it in his letters and diaries. He knew that living in Los Angeles meant floods and droughts and even earthquakes, but he didn’t let those threats defeat him. California had become his home and he refused to let nature push him away.

Frances Dinkelspiel has been delving into the history of Jews in California for the past few years as part of her biography of Isaias W. Hellman. A former reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, Dinkelspiel’s freel-ance work has appeared in the New York Times, People, San Francisco Magazine and other venues. She can be reached at FDinkelspiel@yahoo.com.

 

An Appeal for Help


Floodwaters have forced some 150 Jewish immigrant families to evacuate their refugee home in Dresden.

They have joined at least 30,000 other residents of the historic German city who have lost homes and belongings in recent days, as floods from the Elbe River swept downstream. By Monday, 15 people had died as a result of the floods in the state of Saxony in eastern Germany.

In Dresden, the raging waters damaged landmark buildings — including the city’s new synagogue — and cut off much communication and travel.

The Jewish immigrants, most of whom had come from the former Soviet Union within the past six months, evacuated their refugee home last Friday as waters rose and engulfed apartments.

"These are very poor people, and they lost everything," said Rabbi Shneor Havlin, who runs a Lubavitch congregation in Dresden. "We are giving everything to these families — places to sleep and eat — until the government can help," said Havlin, director of Chabad Lubavitch in Saxony.

Roman Koenig, president of the Dresden Jewish community, reported on Aug. 15 via the Berlin-based Central Council of Jews in Germany that representatives were checking daily on frail or disabled members of the community.

But on Monday, it was still unclear whether everyone was safe.

"We will not know for a few days what happened to our friends and neighbors because people cannot reach each other," Jewish community board member Nora Goldenbogen said.

Telephones were still not working and cell phones could not be recharged since there was no power in much of the city. E-mail, too, was cut off.

Not far from Dresden, in the Czech capital of Prague, Jewish leaders have launched an international appeal for aid after floods caused an estimated $4 million in damage to Jewish holy sites.

On Sunday, President Vaclav Havel visited several historical Jewish sites that were damaged last week during the Czech Republic’s worst floods in more than a century.

Havel expressed sympathy for the Jewish community while touring the 13th century Old-New Synagogue and Pinkas Synagogue. Both sites took in several feet of water, and experts are still examining the extent of the damage.

Havel’s spokesman said the president had informed Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Czech-born former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the damage and was hopeful help would be forthcoming.

Volunteers worked around the clock last week sandbagging synagogues and other Jewish sites in a desperate attempt to keep the waters away.

While giant steel barriers on the banks of Prague’s Vltava River prevented flooding over land, water seeped through underground channels into the city’s historic Jewish Quarter.

Jewish officials discovered Aug. 14 that the Old-New Synagogue had taken in four feet of water, covering pews and damaging the building.

The Pinkas Synagogue also was hit, with water levels inside the building reaching nearly seven feet and damaging a substantial number of the 80,000 handwritten inscriptions of the names of Czech Holocaust victims. The synagogue will be closed for several months because of damage to the foundations. Jewish officials, who had moved all Jewish artifacts including Torah scrolls from the sites before the floodwaters hit, were shocked by the damage.

"There has been serious damage to some of Prague’s Jewish treasures," said Tomas Jelinek, the chairman of the city’s Jewish community. But "in a sense, we are grateful because the damage could have been much worse if the River Vltava’s banks had burst."

The Jewish Museum also was badly hit by underground flooding, which bubbled up through the city’s sewers. Officials succeeded in moving precious Jewish artifacts such as Torah shields, pointers, manuscripts and rare books to higher levels before the floods, but the building is likely to be without electricity for up to four weeks after the generator was submerged in water. The museum has had to cancel all of its art exhibitions in the city for at least a month. Coming at the height of the tourist season, it estimates losses in income amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Czech Jewish officials also were trying to assess damage to buildings and equipment in the Terezin Ghetto.

Ghetto Museum director Jan Munk said efforts were being made to save damaged documents relating to wartime transport lists. Munk added that all tourist sites in the ghetto were closed until further notice.

A planeload of Israeli aid arrived in the Czech Republic on Sunday with detergent materials to help restore flooded Jewish sites, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), is setting up an international Jewish task force in an attempt to save and restore historical Jewish sites damaged recently in the floods in Europe, according to Ha’aretz.

Singer said the WJC planned to raise money from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources and also to enlist volunteers from around the world to assist in the restoration works.

In Germany, it was difficult for representatives of the Central Council of Jews to visit Dresden, as the city’s train station was severely flooded, temporarily halting train traffic in and out of the city. By Tuesday, however, some service had been restored.

The basement of the city’s new liberal synagogue, dedicated in November 2001, was flooded despite the desperate efforts of the fire department and countless volunteers. Before noon last Friday, the waters poured over sandbags and filled the cellar.

But it could have been a lot worse, Goldenbogen said.

"We worked from Thursday on in shifts," she said. "We watched as the water rose, and then decided we needed help. There were not enough sandbags. So we called the fire department and they reacted very fast."

"They were there for more than 20 hours, pumping," said Goldenbogen, a historian and director of the Hatikva Meeting Place in Dresden, a source for cultural and historical information about the city’s Jewish community. "Eventually the water went in, but it was one of the few buildings in the old city that was not so terribly affected."

Volunteers ran the religious gamut, she said, and firefighters came from across Germany.

The firefighters "said to me many times that they saw it as their duty to protect the synagogue," said Goldenbogen. Dresden’s original synagogue was burned down on Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews and their property in November 1938.

Last week, preparing for the high water, community members brought the Torah Scrolls and prayerbooks to the community house, which — like the Hatikva center, as well as the older Jewish cemeteries — is on higher ground, Goldenbogen said.

Early reports that the city’s new Jewish cemetery had been flooded turned out not to be true, she said.

A spokesperson for the Central Council said extra security measures had been taken all across Dresden — including at the new synagogue — to make up for alarm systems shut down with the loss of electricity.

Katsav phoned German President Johannes Rau, offering assistance and the "sympathy and solidarity of the Israeli people."

According to the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, Rau expressed his thanks and hopes that the "catastrophe would soon come to an end." He also invited Katsav to visit Germany. Should he visit Dresden today, Katsav would likely find devastation and hospitality in equal measure.

This past Sabbath, some 50 people managed to cross one bridge before it was closed in order to reach the Chabad House for services and a "big kiddush." Some families stayed overnight in the rabbi’s home and in the Chabad house nearby.

Havlin and his wife, Chana, who moved to Germany from Israel five months ago, live in an area that was spared the worst of the flooding. They were reached by cell phone.

"Our contact with the Jewish community is very good," Havlin said. "They are not Orthodox and we are, but we have a very good connection."

By Monday, the Elbe had dropped about three feet, reaching a level of under 25 feet. But the underground water table continued to rise, endangering the foundations of buildings even in areas not affected by the flooding, according to Germany’s Inforadio.

Until the waters recede, the extent of damage to Dresden’s landmark buildings, apartments and private homes will remain unknown.

On Monday, experts said they feared the famous organ in Dresden’s Semper Opera house was ruined, as its main works lie below ground. In TV news footage, the beloved landmark appeared to float in a sea of brown water. The true state of affairs will only be revealed once layers of mud, trash and sewage are cleared away.

The Jewish community soon will assess the damage to its new synagogue, which was dedicated last fall, exactly 63 years after the original synagogue was destroyed by Nazi arsonists.

The synagogue, which has room for 300 worshippers, cost more than $10 million and was supported by the city of Dresden, the state of Saxony and the private Foundation for the Rebuilding of the Dresden Synagogue.

Jewish community officials in Prague have set up a bank account for donations in U.S. dollars. The use of funds will be publicly reported and audited, they said.

The account, number 179139212/0300 in the name the Prague Jewish Community, known in Czech as Zidovska obec v Praze, is at the CSOB Bank in Prague 7. The SWIFT number for transfers is CEKOCZPP.

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