As Hurricane Irma bore down on South Florida last weekend, Rabbi Pinny Backman was making arrangements.
Backman, who directs Chabad at the University of South Florida with his wife Chava, had more than just his family to worry about; as a community leader, he wanted to ensure the safety of community members as well. He secured a concrete warehouse, stocked it with food and air mattresses, and by the time Irma arrived, the Backman family and 25 others were safely hunkered down to wait out the storm. A nerve wracking thirty-five hours later, the Backmans switched into relief mode, providing meals and dispatching teams of volunteers to help residents clean up from the storm.
On Sunday, they took a bus full of students hard-hit Naples “to assist those who are worse off than us.”
Backman isn’t alone in his efforts: as Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in Florida, Chabad on Campus centers across the state opened their doors, providing shelter for students and community members. In the days since the storm passed, Chabad has shifted to arranging meals for students and organizing relief convoys to assist in the areas worst hit by the storm.
Sara Hoffen, a student at the University of Florida, wrote on Facebook that she is “so proud to be part of such an amazing community” after Chabad of University of Florida in Gainesville, directed by Rabbi Berl and Chanie Goldman, opened their doors to students and families from all over Florida.
Maia Groman, another student at the university, noted that the Goldmans cooked and distributed hundreds of hot kosher meals even though they had no electrical power. “The last week has been a stressful one, but this was all so much easier to go through with the help of Chabad UF. They offered their home as a shelter to so many,” she said. “They never stopped offering to help, even when they needed it the most.”
Rabbi Chaim and Rivkie Lipskier, directors at Chabad at the University of Central Florida, spent the week arranging BBQs for students who do not have power and providing encouragement to National Guard members who have used the UCF campus as a staging ground. Representing the only Jewish organization on campus that remained open during the storm, the Lipskiers felt an added responsibility to be available to the students.
“Our students are away from home, so it’s important for them and their parents to know that someone is there for them,” said Rabbi Lipskier. “A disaster like Hurricane Irma can be frightening, but it also brings people together and highlights the wonderful community on campus.”
To partner in Chabad’s relief efforts, visit www.jewishhurricanefund.com.