October 30, 2003
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.
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.
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.
Jewish Family Services' (JFS) SOVA Food Pantries will be accepting donations. (818) 789-7633.
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.)
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.
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) will be accepting donations at their thrift shops. (323) 655-3111.
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
7818 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 654-8516
14526 Victory Blvd., (818) 997-8980
21716 Sherman Way, (818) 710-7206
Crisis Counseling Services
JFS offers crisis counseling services.
Valley: (818) 464-3333
West Los Angeles: (310) 820-4111
Contact the Jewish Free Loan Association at (323) 761-8830.