December 7, 2019

Jewish Groups Close, Evacuate, Offer Support During Getty Fire 

Firefighters battle the Kincade Fire as it burns a barn on October 27, 2019 in Santa Rosa, California. Fueled by high winds, the Kincade Fire has burned over 30,000 acres and has prompted nearly 200,000 evacuations in Sonoma County and beyond. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Several Jewish organizations have been affected by the wind-driven Getty fire, which broke out early on the morning of Oct. 28 along the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center. The brush fire quickly burned more than 500 acres, and mandatory evacuations have been ordered for almost 10,000 structures.

Currently, the following areas are still under mandatory evacuation: Temescal Canyon Road is the western border; Sunset Boulevard to Chautauqua Boulevard; Chautauqua Boulevard to Pacific Coast Highway remains the southern border; Mulholland Drive remains the northern border; and the 405 Freeway remains the eastern border.

In a Facebook post, the Skirball Cultural Center said that although it is safe from the brush fire, the museum is closed because of poor air quality and road closures.

“Our thoughts are with our neighbors, and we are grateful to the first responders working to keep us safe,” the Facebook post said.

American Jewish University (AJU) and Milken Community Schools also are closed today. Milken created two displaced family forms for members of the community who evacuated and need a place to stay.

“We have received emails, texts and phone calls from so many of our families offering to provide a place to stay for our displaced Milken community members,” Milken wrote on its Facebook page. “If your family has been displaced, please complete this form. If your family can offer a place for another family to stay, please complete this form.”

Milken also relocated its Torahs to Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue (VBS) in Encino. VBS, which is closed today, offered its services and counseling center to anyone in need of assistance.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to close VBS schools today due to road closures, gridlock and keeping the roads clear for emergency fire and safety vehicles related to the Getty fire,” VBS wrote on Facebook. “VBS is here as a resource to our families in need. Please stay safe and vigilant and follow all law enforcement instruction. HAZAK programming has been canceled due to road closures preventing the speakers from attending. Daily minyan will go on as scheduled.”

Rabbi Zushe Cunin, spiritual leader of Chabad of Pacific Palisades, told the Journal in an email that Chabad’s staff has been reaching out to seniors who need assistance evacuating.

“Our campus is available for people who need to park or to come in and get some respite — coffee, water, refreshments etc.,” Cunin said. “Our prayers are with those who have been severely impacted. We are grateful to the first responders who have been working tirelessly saving lives.”

Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik, who opened the doors of the temple for meals tonight and tomorrow, told the Journal “a few families came to us for lunch, snacks and playtime for the little ones. Congregants received alerts early this morning informing them to evacuate. Big questions loomed — what to bring and what to leave? We sent emails to all impacted ZIP codes and all school families were called by our school administration. [The] community is mostly well taken care of but appreciated knowing the synagogue is a place of care and concern.”

In addition, Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard is compiling lists of community members who are willing to host families and extending its office hours so people can use its building as a resource.

“Unfortunately living specifically [in] Los Angeles, we’re all too familiar with this,” Assistant Rabbi Rebecca Schatz told the Journal. “We are doing things that will keep our community supported but we are open to those who need to come in and charge a phone or use the bathroom or whatever someone might need. Our building is open until late tonight so we have also offered that to our community members.”

Torah scrolls have been removed at Leo Baeck Temple on Sepulveda Boulevard. In addition, it has closed its building, which includes the Early Childhood Center. Leo Baeck Rabbi Ken Chasen told the Journal Oct. 29 that they are closed for the second day in a row due to “air quality concerns and the desire to leave Sepulveda Blvd. and our parking lot unencumbered for staging use by the [Los Angeles Fire Department] LAFD.”

“The Getty Fire is painfully reminiscent for us of the Skirball Fire in 2017, which burned six acres of our property, but blessedly, our community is weathering things as well as possible. The synagogue is just outside of the evacuation zone, since we are located on the east side of Sepulveda Boulevard., but I have removed our Torah scrolls and other ritual objects as a precaution,” Chasen wrote via email. “Many of our congregant families live in the Brentwood Hills, so their homes are definitely at risk. We have reached out to every family that we believe has been asked to evacuate, and every indication is that our congregants are safe. We are not aware of any congregants who have lost their homes so far, but that is obviously an evolving situation.”

IKAR sent out an email earlier in the day offering support, and CEO Melissa Balaban and Rabbi Sharon Brous told the Journal that they immediately received several replies from congregants evacuating in addition to those who are offering their homes.

“We need to determine what people actually need; if they need a place just for a few hours so they can pick up a cup of coffee and make their arrangements, they can certainly do that with us at our events space and offices,” Brous said. “If they are going to need a place where they can stay overnight or for a couple of nights, then we will be matching them up with people who have homes that can accommodate that.”

University Synagogue is closed until 2 p.m. Oct. 28 and its staff “extend our prayers for the safety and skill of our firefighters — as well as our gratitude. And, we express our thanks for all those who have already reached out in love and support of each other.”

Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades closed its offices and schools today.

Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin wrote in an email that “more than 600 brave firefighters and other first responders are on the scene doing everything they can to contain the fire and keep Angelenos safe. It is especially important to observe all evacuation notices and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.”

Several centers are open for those seeking shelter including Westwood Recreation Center (1350 S. Sepulveda Blvd.), Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Recreation Center  (14201 Huston St., Sherman Oaks), Stoner Recreation Center (1835 Stoner Ave., L.A.), Palisades Recreation Center (851 Alma Real Drive) and the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (2551 Motor Ave., L.A.).

This is a developing story.