Yosemite Rim Fire damages Tawonga Jewish summer camp

The largest wildfire in California’s history has led to the evacuation of a Jewish summer camp and destroyed at least one of its buildings.

The Yosemite Rim Fire triggered the cancellation of Camp Tawonga’s annual Keshet LGBTQ Family Camp, San Francisco’s j. weekly reported.

On Friday, Tawonga Executive Director Ken Kramarz said in a post on Facebook that one cabin had burned, and that downed power lines, fallen trees and “active fire” had made the last 1.5 miles of road to the camp impassable.

Earlier last week, camp director Jamie Simon-Harris emailed the board of directors and board alumni to report that the fire line was holding and flame retardant had been dumped on all “essential structures,” according to a report in the j. weekly.

“As Shabbat arrives tonight, I urge every Tawongan to pray for the safety of the firefighters,”  Kramarz wrote on Facebook.

In 1999, a forest fire destroyed several buildings on the perimeter of the camp, according to the j. weekly.

The fire is burning over 143,980 acres and is only 7 percent contained. On Monday, the fire destroyed the Berkeley Toulumne Family Camp, a city-owned camp for residents, the Bay City News reported.

In July, a falling tree at Camp Tawonga struck five counselors, killing one and severely injuring two others.

Amid the ravages of wildfires, Colorado Jews band together

The Sidmans are among the lucky ones: Their Colorado Springs home is still standing, nearly untouched by the flames that left many of their neighbors’ houses in ashes.

“I was just sobbing uncontrollably, even though my house was perfect,” Renee Sidman told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

For the past week Sidman and her family—among some 30,000 Colorado residents who were evacuated from their homes as wildfires spread—have found refuge with fellow congregants from Temple Shalom, which was not in the evacuation area.

As of Tuesday, the fire in Waldo Canyon, which sits on the western edge of Colorado Springs, had destroyed at least 347 homes and claimed two lives, according to the Denver Post.

Temple Shalom, which is affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative movements, had about 20 member families evacuated, according to the Sidmans’ host, Julie Richman.

“It’s been kind of a blur,” Richman told JTA about having her family of four now sharing their home with the four Sidmans.

Ironically, Richman’s younger son, Adam, 13, and the Sidmans’ son, Daniel, 12, had just spent two weeks together as bunk mates at summer camp.

The temple’s Facebook page helped to ensure that everyone was accounted for, Richman said, noting that “Everybody in the congregation was kind of tracked down within about 24 hours.”

She said the synagogue also served as a temporary home to the Alpine Autism Center for a few days.

The communal sense was widespread, both in and out of the Jewish community, Richman added. The Jewish-owned Poor Richard’s restaurant gave out free meals to evacuees, individuals picked up restaurant tabs for police and residents put up signs thanking firefighters for keeping them safe.

“Everybody here has been struck by the extremely strong sense of community,” Richman said, reporting that the shelters set in place for evacuees never reached capacity because most people found home hospitality.

Temple Shalom held a healing service Friday night.

“When we Jews suffer pain and tragedy, we come together to strengthen one another. That is how we begin to heal,” said a notice sent to congregants by Rabbi Mel Glazer.

Unlike Temple Shalom and the city’s other synagogue, Temple Beit Torah, Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs was in the evacuation area.

Chabad’s Rabbi Moshe Liberow and his family evacuated ahead of the flames on June 26, finding refuge in Denver. He returned two days later with rabbinical student Zalman Popack to volunteer at one of the shelters.

Police escorted them to his home and synagogue, so they could retrieve some items. The rabbi was relieved to see that there was no damage to his home or synagogue, or his community’s mikvah.

At his home he picked up a cotton candy machine, which he and Popack took along with beverages and other snacks to one of the Red Cross-run shelters.

“People so enjoyed it; adults and children were lining up for the cotton candy,” he said.

Popack has established a relief fund, as has the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, in conjunction with local synagogues, community organizations and national partners.

Jewish federations throughout the United States have been directing donors to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund online or to send checks with the notation “Colorado Fire Relief Fund” to the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, 300 S. Dahlia, Suite 300, Denver, CO 80246.

The donations to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund will go to directly combat the fire and help victims. There will be no administrative fees taken out, said Melissa Gelfand, the federation’s marketing and public relations director.

“We’re working locally with the local VOAD [National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster] to help victims, firefighters and any other first responders,” she said.

As of Monday, she was not certain how much money the federation fund had raised nationally, but said $30,000 had been raised locally.

The Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center is serving as a Red Cross drop-off location for supplies.

Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs is also is collecting relief funds.

“Our heart goes out to those affected,” Liberow said. “We want those people to feel uplifted. Hopefully their lives will be on the mend.”

Disaster in Northern Israel: 40 dead as fire rages across Carmel Mountains [VIDEO]

40 people died on Thursday as a huge brushfire was raging across the Carmel Mountains near Haifa, resulting in the death of some 40 people and hurting dozens of others, among them prison guards and firemen.

Firefighting crews were still battling with the flames into the evening hours and expressed no hope of controlling the fire soon.

“We lost all control of the fire,” said the Haifa firefighting services spokesman on Thursday. “There aren’t enough firefighting resources in Israel in order to put out the fire,” he said.

The 40 individuals who died were students in the Prison Service’s prison guard course who were being brought to the Damon Prison to aid in evacuating the prisoners there.

According to an initial investigation of the events, a tree fell down in the middle of the road the bus was taking, trapping the bus between the flames. As a result, 40 of the 50 prison guards who were on the bus died from the flames. Seven individuals were evacuated from the scene in serious condition and transferred to Haifa hospitals.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Deadly Israeli wildfire draws U.S., Los Angeles support

The ” title=”Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF)” target=”_blank”>Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF), are leading efforts to raise funds to supply Israel’s beleaguered and aging firefighting force with the equipment it needs to battle the out-of-control


” title=”http://www.jnf.org/work-we-do/our-projects/security/friends-of-israel-firefighters.html” target=”_blank”>Friends of Israel Firefighters

” title=”http://www.jewishla.org/israelwildfires” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

” title=”Orthodox Union” target=”_blank”>Israeli Leadership Council

” title=”Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is also currently gathering information and raising funds to send directly to Israel. http://www.jewishla.org/israelwildfires

Rescuing Torah scrolls — I guess it runs in the family

With hurricane-force winds blowing a wall of flames in from the desert, I received a phone call from Rabbi Mathew Earne early the morning of Oct. 22. My wife, Joanna, and I were quickly packing up our most valuable belongings. Our 16-month-old son, Jacob, was running a fever of 103 degrees. The city of San Diego had just ordered mandatory evacuation for hundreds of thousands of San Diegans.

Rabbi Earne asked me to drop what I was doing and come to Congregation Beth Am, which is very close to our home, to pick up one of our synagogue’s five Torahs. With adrenaline and panic running through my veins, I looked to Joanna for guidance. “Absolutely,” she said, “You go get that Torah.” Amazed at Joanna’s resolve, I wiped the ash off my car and drove toward the raging flames to get the Torah.

Early one morning in 1939, Joanna’s grandparents, Morris and Frieda Erman, left Drove, Germany with only their son, Michael, and their community’s Torah. The Jewish community of Drove entrusted their past and their hope to the Ermans and their journey to the United States. Morris and Frieda were allowed to leave Germany with only what they could carry on their laps: their son and their Torah.

As the eerie, dull orange sky dumped black-and-white ash on my car, I pulled into Beth Am’s parking lot. Rabbi Earne handed me the Torah wrapped in two tallitot, and he told me, “Wherever you go, the Torah goes. You never let go.”

With that, our odyssey with the Torah began. We were able to book a hotel room in downtown San Diego. We shooed bellboys away from the Torah, afraid they might set it down. We avoided evacuees with excitable dogs who were jumping up in laps. We settled into our room. The only place we could safely keep the Torah away from our curious son’s hands was on top of the TV armoire. The next day, a large convention forced us from our hotel room, and we temporarily moved in with cousins, the Sieglers. The Torah lay across Mitch’s desk and ensured that any work he did that day would be blessed.

More than 48 hours after we’d left home, the city lifted the evacuation for our neighborhood. As we packed up our belongings again, a now-habitual checklist passed our lips:

“You have Jacob?”


“You have the Torah?”


Throughout our odyssey, we didn’t worry about the cell phones, the toys, the clothes or anything else. Those all could be replaced or re-bought. And during those days, Joanna and I slowly began to connect with Morris and Frieda’s experience almost seventy years ago.

As we drove to the Earne’s house to return the Torah, I thought back to Joanna’s grandparents and I joked with Joanna, “You are genetically programmed to save Torahs in distress, aren’t you?” She chuckled, “Yeah, I guess so.”

You never let go.

Note: Frieda and Morris Erman’s Torah remains in active use in Omaha, Nebraska to this day.

Brooks Herman is managing director of international operations for People to People International. He currently serves as secretary of the board of directors of Congregation Beth Am in San Diego.

The fire next time

Chabad mobilizes to help San Diego fire victims

Fire video and prayers from Malibu
More than 20 Chabad centers in Southern California have been evacuated dueto the raging fires around the region, said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, spokesman forthe West Coast Chabad.West Coast Chabad has organized truckloads of foodand clothing to be sent to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, site for many of thearea evacuees.

Many efforts here and in the region are still underway, involving helpingfamilies evacuate, find shelter, food and clothing and relocate children toother Chabad schools.

Chabad’s camp, Running Springs-CGI has been devoted as a base for the localfire efforts there in Big Bear, Rabbi Cunin said.For Angelenos who want to help, there are more volunteers down there thanneeded, said Rabbi Moishe Leder, of Chabad of University City in San Diego,which has not been evacuated.

“If you have any relatives in San Diego, call them and invite them,” Ledersaid.

Rabbi Mendel Cohen of Chabad’s Crisis Intervention Center is coordinating
Chabad’s efforts, and if you would like to provide assistance or housing,please contact him at 310 770-9220.

Contributions for San Diego victims can be made to the Red Cross of San Diego, the Jewish Federation of SanDiego, or to Chabad Fire Relief (Rancho Santa Fe), among other organizations.To donate to The (Los Angeles) Jewish Federation’s Fire Emergency Relief Fund call 323 761-8200 or send a check to The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90048, made payable to The Jewish Federation with the words “Fire Relief Fund” in the memo line. Donations will also be accepted online at www.jewishla.org.

— Amy Klein
:::::::::::::::::::::::As fires ravage southern California,Jews dealing with fallout from fires

By Jacob Berkman, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

NEW YORK (JTA) — “I worked all my life for this house,” Daniel Okonsky said in a call from his cell phone on Tuesday afternoon. “I was able to build it, to maintain it — and now there is nothing.”

Okonsky was speaking from the Downtown Sheraton in San Diego, where he has been staying with his family since they evacuated their home Sunday at 3:30 a.m. in the face of wildfires that have ravaged southern California. As of Tuesday afternoon the disaster had turned some 450 acres from San Diego to northern Los Angeles into a rumbling inferno, forcing 320,000 people to evacuate and destroying an estimated 1,300 homes, including Okonsky’s.

As the region deals with the fires, the Jewish community of nearly three quarters of a million people in San Diego and Los Angeles counties is struggling to assess the damage in its own ranks.

San Diego County, with about 100,000 Jews, has been hardest hit, with 14 separate fires raging. About 300,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

It is unknown how many of the evacuees are Jewish, but communal leaders were scheduled to meet via teleconference at 2 p.m. Pacific time on Tuesday to discuss how to react.

The Jewish Community Center has been evacuated and has incurred some smoke damage, according to Michael Sonduck, chief operating officer of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

Monday night, 125 residents of the Jewish Sea Crest retirement villages were evacuated. The rest of the residents will soon be evacuated, Sonduck said.

A number of the area’s 40 synagogues are in fire zones, but it is still not known whether any of them have been damaged, according to Sonduck.

The federation, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Family Service of San Diego have set up a disaster fund to help assist with relief. “San Diego is our big concern,” Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, told JTA.

Much of Diamond’s job right now is making contact with the 290 rabbis from San Diego to San Luis Obispo who make up his board and trying to figure out how their synagogues can help each other. If congregants require housing or need to replenish Jewish supplies such as prayer books, the board of rabbis will step in, he said.

Even as they worry about their own synagogues, some Jews have reached out to the broader community.

When the Malibu Presbyterian Church burned down Monday, the Reconstructionist Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue offered to house the church’s preschool for several months, Diamond said.

And in San Diego, Chabad-Lubavitch has been delivering blankets and food to the 10,000 evacuees staying at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. Chabad is delivering kosher food to Jews and non-kosher food donated form local restaurants to non-Jews, said the rabbi of Chabad of Poway, Yisroel Goldstein.

“The wildfires know no bounds of geography or religious faith,” Diamond said.

The area’s largest Jewish community, in and around Los Angeles, where some 550,000 Jews live, seems relatively unscathed so far, according to officials at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The Jewish community in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, has also been relatively unharmed, according to Chelle Friedman, director of the planning and funding council for the Jewish Federation of Orange County.

Though the Jewish Community Center in Orange County has cancelled all outdoor activities, the federation there has received no reports of damage to any of the area’s 37 synagogues, three day schools, or other Jewish institututions.

“So far we have been very fortunate,” Friedman told JTA.

But community officials are not resting comfortably, she said, because “the winds could shift at any moment.”

The real horror remains south, where the past few days have been harrowing, say those still in the fire.

“It is like a war zone,” said Okonsky, who lost the 6,500-sq.-ft .home he built 16 years ago on 3.25 acres overlooking a canyon and bird sanctuary.

Congregations Rally to Aid Fire Victims

By phone, e-mail and word-of-mouth, the bad news kept piling up at Congregation Emanu El in San Bernardino.

The homes of six families had been burned to the ground in the devastating wildfires sweeping across Southern California.

Another 30-40 families had been forced to evacuate their homes, and no one knew the present whereabouts of eight other families.

Rabbi Douglas Kohn, the Reform congregation’s spiritual leader, was at the point of utter exhaustion.

“I haven’t slept more than 10 hours since Shabbat,” he said Monday evening.

“I can see the tall flames from my study,” he added. “Embers, soot and ashes are falling on the synagogue and we can’t use the air conditioning. We have evacuated our Torah scrolls and original Marc Chagall paintings; one of our members, an officer in the fire department, is on the fire-line; and our Jewish police chief is also in action.”

“Every one of our 420 families is out helping others, everyone is concerned about everyone else,” Kohn said.

Emanu El is the only synagogue in San Bernardino, some 60 miles east of Los Angeles, and it is also the oldest in California, having been in continuous operation since 1851.

San Bernardino — with some 185,000 residents — and its surroundings were hardest hit, accounting for one-third of the 1,500 homes destroyed in the region’s 10 major wildfires by Tuesday morning, but there were losses and suffering elsewhere.

Many congregants of Congregation Etz Chaim in Ramona were evacuated and the fate of their homes were unknown at press time.

To the south, in San Diego County, the 20 classroom trailers of the Chabad Hebrew Academy of San Diego in Scripps Ranch were totally destroyed by the fire, while an adjacent brand-new $25 million building, almost completed and surrounded by flames, was spared, said Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein.

Also in San Diego, Temple Emanu El closed its preschool and transferred its Torah scrolls, said Rabbi Martin Lawson. Tifereth Israel Synagogue also took its Torah scrolls to safety after nearby residents were ordered to evacuate their homes.

The United Jewish Federation building was ordered evacuated, and all San Diego residents were asked to remain home Monday.

In another hot-spot, Simi Valley, Mount Sinai Memorial Park reported minor damage to buildings and more extensive burning of trees and park areas. The Brandeis-Bardin Institute, also in Simi Valley, was untouched by the fire.

Temple Judea in Tarzana and Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge expressed concern about the well-being of the many congregants from the Simi Valley.

In the San Gabriel Valley, four employees of the local Jewish Federation reported that their homes had been entirely or partially destroyed.

The Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregants reported that temples in Big Bear, Victorville and Thousand Oaks appeared to have survived unscathed.

Jewish communities rallied to aid the homeless and other victims.

Some 11 Chabad centers in Southern California turned themselves into relief and counseling centers, providing clothing, furniture and food.

The Board of Rabbis of Southern California called on all member congregations to provide assistance, said executive vice president Rabbi Mark S. Diamond.

Staff Writer Rachel Brand contributed to this report.

Donation Information

The Jewish Federation has established the Southern California Fire Emergency Relief Fund and coordinated with community agencies to provide the following assistance opportunities, as well as relief services.

Monetary Donations

Donations can be made online at www.jewishla.org. Send checks to The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90048, payable to The Federation with “Fire Relief Fund” on memo line. (323) 761-8200.

Food Donations

Jewish Family Services’ (JFS) SOVA Food Pantries will be accepting donations. (818) 789-7633.

Valley Site:

6027 Reseda Blvd., Tazana. (Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Fri. 10 a.m.-noon and Sun., 10:30 a.m.-noon. Sun. Nov. 2, 9:30 a.m-3 p.m.)

West L.A. Sites:

11310 Santa Monica Blvd. (Mon. and Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Fri., 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.)

Beverly-Fairfax Site:

7563 Beverly Blvd. (Mon. and Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m.) and Sun. (except first 10 a.m.-noon.).

Donations can also be dropped off at the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, 22622 Vanowen Street, West Hills; and The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

Clothing Donations

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) will be accepting donations at their thrift shops. (323) 655-3111.

Los Angeles:

11571 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 477-9613

455 N. Fairfax Ave., (323) 651-2080

1052 S. Fairfax Ave., (323) 938-8122

12120 Venice Blvd., (310) 572-9158

West Hollywood:

7818 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 654-8516

Van Nuys:

14526 Victory Blvd., (818) 997-8980

Canoga Park:

21716 Sherman Way, (818) 710-7206

Crisis Counseling Services

JFS offers crisis counseling services.

Valley: (818) 464-3333

West Los Angeles: (310) 820-4111

Monetary Assistance

Contact the Jewish Free Loan Association at (323) 761-8830.