November 6, 2003
Fire-Damaged Temples Take Stock
As 10 wildfires, which ravaged large areas of Southern California, were finally brought under control, Jewish communities joined fellow citizens in facing the aftermath of the painful human and property toll.
The worst damage was suffered by synagogue congregants in the San Bernardino and San Diego areas.
Preliminary figures in San Diego County showed that the homes of 30 Jewish families had been destroyed by the fires, and the final count may reach 60 homes, said Tina Friedman, spokesperson for the United Jewish Federation (UJF) of San Diego.
To the east of the city, in Scripps Ranch, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad Hebrew Academy was desperately searching for temporary classrooms, offices and equipment, lost when the fire torched all 20 of the academy's trailers.
"We also need computers, desks and books," Goldstein said. "We need everything."
A new nearby Chabad building, surrounded by flames, was saved, but it won't be ready for another two months.
The homes of six member families of Congregation Emanu El in San Bernardino burned down completely, but Rabbi Douglas Kohn expressed his gratitude for the instant response to the tragedy.
"We've have had checks from as far away as the Midwest, and calls from all over the world," he said. "One temple sent over trays of sandwiches and cookies for Shabbat services. I tell you, in time of crisis, there is nothing anywhere like the Jewish community."
In the Pomona-Claremont area, members of Temple Beth Israel suffered the loss of two destroyed and one damaged homes.
The stubborn fires in the Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead areas forced the evacuation of all residents, but no Jewish homes or institutions were damaged, said Mike Cross, president of the B'nai Big Bear congregation.
UJF is developing an extensive assistance plan. For information, visit www.jewishinsandiego.com. To provide assistance, and for the location of various Chabad drop-off centers, visit, www.chabad.com .