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Celebrating Simchat Torah, Hurricane and All

Rebbeca Rosenthal –

As Hurricane Wilma walloped Hallandale, Florida, the local Chabad weathered the storm without wavering from their Simchat Torah holiday plans.

Morning prayer services were postponed until noon, when Wilma was projected to be on her way out, but not canceled. The evening’s grand community dinner and plans to dance with the Torah that night were still on as well. All food had been prepared in advance of the storm, last minute purchases were made yesterday – ahead of Wilma’s winds. Chabad of Hallandale’s representative Rabbi Rephael Tennenhaus expects the dinner and dancing to draw a larger crowd than ever, especially since loss of electricity prevented most from cooking for the holiday. “The mitzvah of the holiday is to be joyous,” Rabbi Tennenhaus told via cell phone as the winds roared. “Everyone will be grateful they made it through the storm and are able to celebrate the holiday.”

Wilma’s winds uprooted trees, knocked over gates, and whipped Sukkot holiday huts out of backyards. Branches from trees hurtled and “wires from telephone poles are shaking like lulavs,” said Rabbi Tennenhaus referring to the palm branch that is waved in all directions on Sukkot.

According to weather reports, Hurricane Wilma is the strongest storm to hit Hallandale in forty years. The area escaped major damage from Hurricane Andrew, which devastated neighboring counties back in 1992.

While Wilma brewed on Sunday night, Chabad of Hallandale held a late night Psalm vigil. As prayers ended, Rabbi Tennenhaus and his congregants snacked on apples in the sukkah, known as Hallandale’s Happy Hut. A congregant who had been evacuated from his mobile home camped out in the synagogue. Others joined him in order to be on time for morning services.

The fate of the Happy Hut was not known at press time, but Wilma was expected to finish her devastating whirl through the area by early afternoon. At that time, Rabbi Tennenhaus, his son Levi and others will be on hand to start cleaning up. Though electricity remained offline, Rabbi Tennenhaus was optimistic that a cool front in the storm’s wake would make the outage manageable during the holiday celebration. “Simhat Torah is a definite. You can’t cancel a holiday,” said Rabbi Tennenhaus. “We will all be especially joyful this year.”

In a similar spirit, Chabad of the Space Coast in Satellite Beach, Florida, held its annual Sukkah party on Sunday. Barbecue was served in the Sukkah, face painting and other holiday activities took place right on schedule. No matter what meteorologists forecast, Chabad carries on.

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