January 23, 2019

Finding God in neighborly kindness when disaster strikes

“The epicenter of the earthquake was under our kitchen. The house jumped 10 feet in the air, and my wife and I woke to the beautiful view of the San Fernando Valley,” Rabbi Ed Feinstein, 59, of  Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, recalled with dry humor.

Feinstein’s experience, as it was for many others who lived in his Granada Hills neighborhood, was traumatic. The back wall of his house, along with its windows, was smashed and destroyed, and its water heaters exploded. Feinstein and his family moved out of their home, which was uninhabitable, and eventually moved permanently into a new house in Encino.

Despite the similar trauma of many members of the Valley Beth Shalom community, synagogue leaders dove into action in the days after the earthquake. Leaders contacted every member of the synagogue and put together an emergency committee of lawyers, personal counselors and architects from the congregation who could help community members.

“We made sure everyone in the community who needed help was getting help,” said Feinstein, who was a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom at the time. “The physical shockwaves left people feeling emotionally shaky. At the same time, there was a tremendous sense of bonding together to help one another. It was very special.”

The synagogue’s Hebrew classes resumed a week after the earthquake, and a wedding ceremony interrupted by an aftershock was improvised in the synagogue’s parking lot.

Feinstein also recalls acts of support in his neighborhood. A policeman neighbor and his son guarded the cul-de-sac on their block, since there was no police protection. A man driving around in a big yellow truck sold cases of water for the same price they cost at Costco, despite the higher profits he could have made.

“What we saw was the best of human beings,” Feinstein said. “When I had to explain to my kids where is God, I said, ‘God is in the yellow truck. God is with all the people who help their neighbors and give them support, and our job is to be part of that, too.”