Chabad distributes O.U. disaster-relief funds in Oklahoma


Chabad distributed some $15,000 in disaster-relief funds provided by the Orthodox Union to Oklahomans affected by the recent devastating tornado.

The money distributed by the Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma over the Memorial Day weekend was used for store gift cards and cash relief to help residents whose homes were destroyed by the May 21 tornado that struck Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, according to Chabad.org. The tornado killed 24 and destroyed or damaged 2,400 homes.

“On behalf of those here in Oklahoma who will receive this help, my thanks go to all of the O.U. members and friends who were so generous in a time of real need,” said Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, director of the Chabad center.

The money was collected in O.U. synagogues and via social networking.

Chabad, which opened its center as a shelter, has been collecting and distributing supplies for displaced families and the elderly.

Jewish organizations to deliver 20,000 pounds of food to Oklahoma


In the wake of the disastrous tornado in Oklahoma, The National Council of Young Israel has joined with the Masbia organizations, as well as with Agri Star Meat & Poultry LLC to provide 20,000 pounds of foods for the relief effort. 

The Jewish Journal previously reported that the Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma was taking in those whose homes were ruined in the tornado, and that subsequent to the disaster many Jewish organizations were collection donations for victims. Yet, this is the largest Jewish effort so far.

[Relief effort: How you can help]

Masbia, a New York based network of soup kitchens regularly serves meals to those without food, and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, fed over 3,000 people. For Oklahoma, Masbia decided to raise the requisite funds for the shipping of the food from Agri Star Meat & Poultry. Once NCYI learned of the joint efforts of Masbia and Agri Star Meat & Poultry, it began to help raise the money for delivery. Previously, NCYI worked with Masbia after Hurricane Sandy. Agri Star has a facillity in Postville, Iowa where the food will be shipped initially, and then from there to Oklahoma.

“Food is most essential to victims of disaster,” said Alexander Rappaport, the founder of Masbia. “Food cannot bring back any loses, but it helps them keep it together. We found during our on the ground Sandy relief work, the victims need food, the first-responders need food, the volunteers need food. You never can forget the smile on their faces when you arrive with food.”

Rescuers search Oklahoma tornado town ruins as recovery starts


Rescue workers with sniffer dogs picked through the ruins of an Oklahoma town on Wednesday to ensure no survivors remained buried after a deadly tornado left thousands homeless and trying to salvage what was left of their belongings.

“Yesterday I was numb. Today I cried a lot. Now I'm on the victory side of it,” said Beth Vrooman, who hid in a shelter in her garage during Monday's storm in Moore, Oklahoma.

When the winds died down, she realized a car was blocking her exit.

“It took some muscle, but I got out,” Vrooman said, as she sifted through piles of clothing, broken knickknacks and nail-studded boards that had once been her home.

The tornado on Monday afternoon flattened entire blocks of the town, including schools, a hospital and other buildings.

At least 24 people were killed and 240 others injured, but authorities were increasingly confident that everyone caught in the disaster had been accounted for, despite initial fears that the twister had claimed the lives of more than 90 people.

Jerry Lojka, spokesman for Oklahoma Emergency Management, said search-and-rescue dog teams would search for anybody trapped under the rubble, but that attention would also be focused on a huge cleanup job.

[Related: How you can help]

“They will continue the searches of areas to be sure nothing is overlooked,” he said. “There's going to be more of a transition to recovery.”

More than 1,000 people had already registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which sent hundreds of workers to Oklahoma to help with the recovery.

After a long day of searching through shattered homes that was slowed by rainy weather on Tuesday, Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said it seemed no one was missing.

“As far as I know, of the list of people that we have had that they are all accounted for in one way or another,” he said.

TEN CHILDREN AMONG DEAD

The state medical examiner on Wednesday released details on the people who died in the storm, and reported 10 children, including a four-month-old baby, were among the victims, more than the nine previously reported.

The other children ranged in age from 4 years to 9 years old. The storm's oldest victim, of those whose ages were released, was 63. Most of the victims died of blunt force injuries that were probably caused by flying debris and five of the children died from suffocation.

Most of the children were at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit by the deadliest tornado to strike the United States in two years.

Emergency workers pulled more than 100 survivors from the debris after the tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City region with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour (320 kph), leaving a trail of destruction 17 miles (23 km) long and 1.3 miles (2 km) wide.

The National Weather Service said the tornado was ranked a rare EF5, the most powerful on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

STORM SAFE SHELTERS

The last time a giant twister tore through the area, on May 3, 1999, it killed more than 40 people and destroyed thousands of homes. That tornado also topped the scale.

Oklahoma Emergency Management's Lojka said 2,400 homes were damaged or obliterated and an estimated 10,000 people affected.

The death toll was lower than might have been expected given the extent of the devastation in Moore, home to 55,000 people.

Some ascribed the relatively few deaths to many people having small “storm safe” shelters, basically a concrete hole in the garage floor with a sliding roof that locks.

Billy McElrath, 50, of Oklahoma City, said his wife hid in a storm safe in their garage when the tornado hit.

She emerged unhurt even though the storm destroyed the 1968 Corvette convertible she had bought him as a birthday present, and crushed a motorcycle.

“Everything else is just trashed,” he said as he loaded a pickup with salvaged goods.

Kraig Boozier, 47, took to his own small shelter in the Westmoor subdivision of Oklahoma City and watched in shock as a fan in the wall was ripped out.

“I looked up and saw the tornado above me,” he said.

Officials said another factor behind the surprisingly low death toll was the early warning, with meteorologists saying days in advance that a storm system was coming.

Once a tornado was forming, people had 15 to 20 minutes of warning, which meant they could take shelter or flee the projected path. The weather service also has new, sterner warnings about deadly tornadoes.

Many of those who do not have a basic storm shelter at home, which can cost $2,500 to $5,000, have learned from warnings over the year to seek hiding places at home during a tornado.

Jackie Raper, 73, and her daughter, for instance, sought shelter in the bathtub in her house in Oklahoma City.

“The house fell on top of her,” said Caylin Burgett, 16, who says Raper is like a grandmother to her. Raper broke her arm and femur, and bruised her lungs, Burgett said.

Additional reporting by Alice Mannette, Lindsay Morris, Nick Carey, Brendan O'Brien, Greg McCune, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool

Chabad center taking in Oklahomans displaced by deadly tornado


A Chabad center in Oklahoma City opened its building as a shelter for those displaced by a deadly tornado.

The Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma also is collecting supplies for those left homeless by the tornado that tore through an Oklahoma City suburb on Monday afternoon, leaving at least 24 people dead, including several children, and injuring hundreds.

“While we feel the pain of others, we’re very thankful that we’re able to respond – to use all our energy and all our resources to let the community know we’re here to help,” Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, the Southern Oklahoma Chabad’s co-director, told Chabad.org.

Goldman said he has received calls from individuals and organizations in New York, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, California and abroad with offers to help with relief efforts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter of condolence to President Obama on Tuesday morning in the wake of the tornado.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Israel, I offer our heartfelt condolences to you and to the people of the United States on the massive tornado that struck in Oklahoma and exacted such a horrific toll in human life,” Netanyahu wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and their families at this difficult time.”

Rescuers search through rubble after a tornado struck Moore, Okla., on May 20. Photo by Gene Blevins/Reuters

A prayer for Oklahoma


Lord our God, we stood before You just a week ago to receive the Ten Statements of Your Torah. We stood, as though with our ancestors, and listened to the Torah reader chant descriptions of the smoking mountain, the thunderous rumbling, and the long-awaited voice of God.

This afternoon, the people of central Oklahoma did not stand to hear the voice of God. We sat, we paced, and we huddled. We listened to the voice of the meteorologists and watched as dark clouds swirled together over a cone of destruction. The rain fell upward, not down, and the thunderous roar of the swirling winds carried, and we saw the awesome power of God. This was not Shavuot — the Feast of Weeks that marked our days of freedom. This was minutes that seemed like years and trapped us into watching the same images of destruction.

Merciful God, a great and powerful windstorm has passed, and it has torn apart the buildings and shattered the rocks before You. You told Elijah, the prophet, that You were not in the windstorm. Please, then, be in the still, small voices of the children crying out to be found. Be in the voices of the rescuers calling out for survivors. Be in the cries of those who are lost and of those who have lost.

May it be Your will that those who are missing be found alive and be cared for well, and may the people of central Oklahoma find strength in You and in one another as we rebuild what we can.

Ex-Argentinians in Israel helping to rebuild tornado-ravaged JCC


Some Argentinians who moved to Israel have launched a campaign to rebuild a Buenos Aires province Jewish center destroyed in a tornado.

The campaign by former members of Bet Am del Oeste-CISO, the only Jewish club in the western Buenos Aires province, has brought in $7,000 in its first two days; the institution needs at least $50,000 to rebuild. It was destroyed in the April 5 storm, which has caused 17 deaths and major damage. Bet Am del Oeste-CISO has 400 members.

The new Israelis are donating $100 for each of their children.

“The objective is to raise quickly 100 donors of $100 to buy the material to solve the emergency,” Ariel Yeguerman of Kibbutz Or Haner told JTA. The kibbutz is located in southern Israel, near the city of Sderot.

Leandro Niborski, the director of the center’s youth department, told JTA that the emigres “called us to say that they made aliyah because of the education and values they received here, so now they feel the obligation to contribute in this emergency.”

The Argentinian minister of federal planning, Julio de Vido, in a news conference Monday called the storm “an unprecedented tornado that caused the immediate collapse of 30 percent of public services.”

Buenos Aires is the largest province in Argentina with more than 15 million inhabitants. It has the same name as the capital city.

Louisville federation launches fundraising drive for tornado victims


The Jewish Federation of Louisville has opened a fund to help victims of tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest.

Federation officials said they were eager to help donors who wanted to help those affected by the storms, which claimed dozens of lives and cut a path of destruction across several states.

“Our hearts go out to our neighbors in Southern Indiana who are suffering tremendously in the wake of last week’s powerful storms,” Stu Silberman, the Louisville federation’s president and CEO, said in a statement Tuesday. “We are honored to play a role in helping restore lives by coordinating relief efforts from Jewish communities around the country.”

Other Jewish groups also have responded to the storms. NECHAMA, a Jewish disaster relief organization, is set to begin a cleanup operation in two communities, and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains also will deploy chaplains to affected areas.

The storms did not have a direct impact on any Jewish communities.

Jewish community accounted for in Joplin tornado


Two Jewish brothers who were reported missing in the wake of a deadly tornado in Joplin, Mo., are safe.

All the members of the small Jewish community in Joplin have now been accounted for, but many lost their homes and possessions in the tornado and are in need of basic supplies, according to reports.

The Jewish Federation of St. Louis said that at least four Jewish families have lost everything and are living in shelters.

The federation is collecting online donations to help assist the victims, and the city’s Jewish Community Relations Council is gathering supplies including blankets, new underwear, T-shirts, water, baby supplies and toiletry items to drive into Joplin.

Approximately 50 Jews live in Joplin, according to the federation, in a population of some 50,000.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City’s board of directors voted Tuesday to allocate $5,000 in emergency funds to the relief efforts in Joplin.

Rabbi Yehuda Weg, the Tulsa-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Oklahoma, told Chabad.org Tuesday that several Jewish-owned homes were “totally flattened.” He had driven to Joplin the previous night with a list of Jewish community members in need and a car full of supplies, joining volunteers from the American Red Cross and local disaster agencies, according to Chabad.org.

Weg travels to Joplin twice a month to supervise kosher production lines at several food manufacturers and to meet with 15 to 20 Jews affiliated with Chabad living there.

The United Hebrew Congregation of Joplin, a Reform synagogue, was not damaged, according to the federation. The synagogue reportedly has existed in the city since at least 1919.

A reported 122 people are confirmed dead and hundreds are missing following what is being called the second-deadliest tornado in U.S. history. The tornado cut through Joplin Sunday evening, one of several tornadoes that hit the Midwest over the weekend due to a system of severe thunderstorms that also have caused massive flooding.

Joplin’s small Jewish community hit by tornado


At least two Jewish brothers are missing in the wake of a deadly tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo.

Other members of the small Jewish community there are in need of basic supplies, Chabad.org reported late Monday.

Rabbi Yehuda Weg, the Tulsa-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Oklahoma, drove to Joplin Monday night with a list of Jewish community members in need or missing and a car full of supplies, joining volunteers from the American Red Cross and local disaster agencies, according to Chabad.org.

Weg travels to Joplin twice a month to supervise kosher production lines at several food manufacturers and to meet with the 15 to 20 Jews living there.

Weg said that those missing following the tornado included two brothers active in the Jewish community.

Some 116 people are confirmed dead and dozens are missing following what is being called the second-deadliest tornado in U.S. history. The tornado cut through Joplin Sunday evening, one of several tornadoes that hit the Midwest over the weekend due to a system of severe thunderstorms that also have caused massive flooding.

Jewish community aiding tornado victims


Jewish groups are mobilizing assistance in areas of the U.S. Southeast struck by devastating tornadoes this week.

The Birmingham Jewish Federation in Alabama has opened a Tornado Recovery Fund to raise money for victims of the storms and tornadoes, which struck Wednesday and continued Thursday morning. The federation is coordinating a community relief effort with the United Way of Central Alabama, focusing on the Birmingham region, which was particularly hard hit. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, and more than a million homes and buildings were without power as of Friday afternoon.

Knesset Israel Congregation of Birmingham held a communal meal Thursday night and was planning to do the same over Shabbat, to aid those without electricity. The congregation’s rabbi, Eytan Yammer, is giving monetary aid to victims from his discretionary funds.

Nearly 300 people were killed in six states, two-thirds of them in Alabama alone. So far, no Jewish deaths or injuries have been reported, although several Jewish homes in Alambama were damaged by trees, according to Southern Jewish Life.

“Fortunately, much of our Jewish community was minimally affected by the storms, though we have received some calls for assistance,” Collat Jewish Family Services Executive Director Lauren Perlman reported Thursday.

“In Birmingham, there’s no separation between the Jewish community and our broader community,” said Joyce Spielberger, director of community relations and overseas programs at the Birmingham Jewish Federation. “There is not one person in Alabama that has not been affected.”

B’nai B’rith International also has opened a mailbox for donations to the affected area.