Community Assesses Loss and Pitches In After Fires

November 20, 2018
The Kletter family. From left: Jeff, Jessa, Josie, Jett and Jace. Courtesy of Jeff Kletter

Refugees in Their Own City

In the wake of the Woolsey fire, the Kletter family evacuated its Malibu home and tried to check into a hotel in Santa Monica. However, all the hotels were already booked, so the family of five, and their dog, eventually found a room in a hotel near LAX.

However, the space was too small for the couple to run their home business from and they moved again to an Airbnb in Marina del Rey. Three nights later, they were forced to pack up yet again and check into another hotel.

The family hoped to be able to return to their home on Nov. 14, however, the mandatory evacuation was still in effect, so they once again checked into another Airbnb, this time in Venice. However, they were forced to leave after only one night there as well.

Two more nights and two different hotels in Santa Monica later, the family — reported on in last week’s Jewish Journal in “Fire Forces Bar Mitzvah Change of Venue” — finally returned home on Nov. 17, eight days after their evacuation.

“It looks like we may be able to return today,” Jeff Kletter said in an email on Nov. 17. “We are going to drive back this afternoon. I’m told it all smells like smoke but it will be good to go home.”

Relief Efforts

Steven Weinberg, an attorney and the board president of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, was one of the lucky ones. His house in Malibu near Zuma Beach was spared from the Woolsey Fire. And thanks to a generator he recently purchased, his home did not lose power.

In a phone interview, Weinberg told the Journal he and his wife had approximately 40 friends who lost their homes. He plans to help out by allowing people who can get a trailer or RV to park on his one-acre property until figuring out a more long-term solution. He also plans to open up his home on Thanksgiving to those who have nowhere else to go.

Weinberg’s generosity was just one example of the ways people have opened up their hearts following the Woolsey Fire.

Debbie Bloom Feldstein, a mother of a ninth-grader at Milken Community Schools and a board member of dog agency A Purposeful Rescue, collected and delivered truckloads of supplies, including food, crates and collars, to help animals suffering from the fire.

“People automatically think of the people that are affected,” she said, “but I automatically think of all the animals that are affected.”

Feldstein’s agency rescued 20 dogs from overburdened shelters around L.A. to create space for animals displaced by the fire.

“Pulling 20 dogs gave the [shelters] a little more room to breathe, because they were overwhelmed by the dogs, cats, birds and bunnies that were coming in from the fire,” she said.

“Even now, things are more settled, but we still have people coming up saying, ‘I want to foster one dog, I want to foster two dogs, I want to foster a bird,’” she said. “It was really an inspirational thing that took place.”

Malibu Rabbi Loses Home, Finds Support 

When Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (MJCS) Rabbi Michael Schwartz’s rented home in Malibu burnt down in the Woolsey Fire, he and his family were offered free accommodations at an Airbnb.

And the rabbi, who was concerned about the welfare of his congregants, found himself in the unfamiliar role of being on the receiving end of help. “I’m in the strange situation of being one of the people being cared for at the same time I am one of those trying to care for people,” he said in a phone interview.

Schwartz, his wife and his three children had only just moved into the now destroyed house on Oct. 1. Earlier this year, after Schwartz accepted the senior rabbi position at MJCS, the family relocated from Israel to Los Angeles.

“We lost pretty much everything, all our furniture, all our clothes,” Schwartz said. “Our ketubah (marriage certificate) we forgot to take; quilts for each kid my mom made when they were born. Most painfully, or financially, my wife’s ceramics studio we had just finished setting up,” he said.

Juggling his family’s immediate needs with outreach to his community, he expressed confidence his Malibu congregation would pull together.

“We care about our congregants and we want to make sure everyone is all right and we want to be as reassuring as we can,” he said. “We’ll all work together through this as a community and help one another.”

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