November 18, 2019

Chabad Rabbi Joins Northern California Fire Relief Efforts

SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA: The Kincade Fire burns along Fraught Road on October 27, 2019 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Amid widespread power outages and forced evacuations, Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky of Chabad of Sonoma County has been supporting those affected by the Kincade fire in Northern California. 

Speaking with the Journal by phone on the morning of Oct. 29, Wolvovsky said he was concerned about winds picking up and spreading the fire. As of the Journal’s press time, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said the fire was 15% contained and had burned more than 75,000 acres. 

Wolvovsky has been bringing baked goods to the first responders and speaking with those at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds evacuation center, among other locations, to make sure they have what they need.

Of the first responders who have been coming in from around the country to help, Wolvovsky said, “They are here protecting us. Not all of them know this area well, but we want them to know we appreciate they are here.” 

Wolvovsky drew on his experience helping out during the 2017 Tubbs fire, which burned parts of Napa and Sonoma counties. “Many people lost their homes and they were just about rebuilding now when this new fire came,” he said. “There are a lot of emotionally charged experiences right now and those people need a little extra shoulder [to lean on] right now.”

Wolvovsky’s Chabad lost power during Shabbat morning services and as of press time still hadn’t regained power. However, the Chabad Center and Wolvovsky’s home were spared. Nevertheless, the rabbi said, “The smoke in the air has been a real factor here. Many people cannot and do not want to be in this area when the smoke is this strong.” In addition, the community had been unable to bury a man who died on Oct. 25. 

With Sonoma residents living without power, many have relied on lanterns and flashlights. People don’t have refrigeration or heat. Wolvovsky has been trying to ensure people have the supplies that they need, although the evacuation centers are all well stocked, he said. 

Ice also has been in high demand. According to Wolvovsky, the stores sell out of ice when there is no power, and he has tried to purchase ice for those in need. Meanwhile, he said, “Our job is to be in touch with as many people as possible and make sure people stay strong and make sure people get back to normal.” 

He said the fires remind him of his purpose to help people in times of need in the Jewish and broader communities. “It’s why we came here,” he said. “To help in whatever way is necessary. Unfortunately at times like this, there is a lot of need right away.”