by Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org
With nine people dead, 2 million homes without power, and extensive flooding and property damage from Florida to North Carolina, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries reached out to their communities after the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath to begin to assess the massive help that will needed. Hurricane Matthew continues to threaten the region with storm surges and torrential rains.
As soon as evacuations were ordered on Thursday and Friday, Chabadshluchim began to reach out, some utilizing every square inch of unused space to provide a portal in the storm. Others prepared special Shabbatmeals that were delivered in advance of the hurricane. Even emissaries under mandatory evacuation did their best to keep in touch with friends and neighbors.
After killing more than 900 people in Haiti and causing widespread damage in the Bahamas, the storm moved up the Florida and Georgia coast on Friday causing six deaths but remaining far enough offshore to avoid similarly catastrophic devastation there.
The hurricane made landfall in South Carolina on Saturday morning as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It is expected to weaken further and become a post-tropical storm by late Saturday night.
Despite the storm’s weakening, the National Hurricane Center warned of “strong winds and dangerous storm surges” along the South and North Carolina coasts as well as “heavy rains and gusty winds spreading inland.”
North Carolina recorded three storm-related deaths — one due to hydroplaning and two after a vehicle was submerged in flood water. There were dozens of water rescues across central and southern North Carolina as roads flooded and homes became inundated. As heavy rains continued to inundate the state, a state of emergency was declared in Durham County shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday, and the state announced evacuations near dams which were close to failure.
Comfort During a Terrifying Ordeal
In Ormond Beach, Rabbi Pinchas Ezagui, co-director of Chabad Lubavitchof Greater Daytona with his wife, Chanie, was experiencing the worst of the storm on Friday when reached by phone.
“It’s been quite interesting; you’re reaching me at the height and midst of the storm. It s very windy and rainy. Trees are falling, things are breaking and flying around outside,” he says, noting that he was using a generator to help keep some lights on since power was out throughout the city. “Hopefully, the abeshiter, G‑d, will make sure that nobody gets hurt or loses property.”
A veteran (of sorts) of hurricanes—having been in Florida since 1990, through six or seven storms over the years—the rabbi has been trying to calm the nerves of newer community members.
“Young couples are very nervous. They keep texting: ‘Rabbi, what should I do?’ I am here to calm them down,” says Ezagui. “They have been texting in the middle of the night, and I get it—the wind is scary, the noises are scary, and they want a little support and comfort. I am giving them the best advice I can based on my experience.”
Though a curfew is in effect until 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, the rabbi is hoping that things will return to normal quickly. Meanwhile, gas and food shortages continue to be widespread, and power lines are down everywhere.
“G‑d willing, we will be able to open the Chabad House or at least have aminyan in my house. I’m sure that 40 to 50 people will show up for davening. If there’s a minyan, they will come.
“All this is weather-permitting, of course,” he adds. “If it is not safe, I will not encourage anyone. If the storm passes and tomorrow is OK, people will come to our house for food, air-conditioning, even something for a l’chayim. It’s Shabbat Shuva [Shabbat of Repentance], and a farbrengen will go on.”
Care Packages for Shabbat
Somewhat inland, the emissaries from Chabad of South Orlando are trying to assist tourists who find themselves stuck during the storm. They are also reaching out to residents who need power for medical equipment and have plans to help evacuate those residents to the Chabad House, if necessary, which has power thanks to a generator.
In Gainesville—also inland and spared from the worst of the storm—Rabbi Berl Goldman, his wife Chanie, and Rabbi Aharon and Pessie Notik atLubavitch Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Florida were preparing to welcome several hundred students for Shabbat dinner.
The emissaries are also providing a makeshift shelter for students who want a friendly place to ride out the storm. “There are a bunch of students sleeping in the library and other places around the house,” notes Goldman.
Further north, in Jacksonville, where the worst of Matthew’s effects was predicted for Friday evening, Rabbi Shmuel and Chana Novack, co-directors of Chabad of Southside, recruited students from the nearby University of Florida at Jacksonville to help prepare Shabbat food packages on Thursday.
Though three Chabad Houses in the area were evacuated because of fears that storm surge will cause substantial damage, the Novacks are able to remain in their home, which is not under evacuation orders.
“We were debating whether to host our weekly Shabbat dinner to dozens of college students, but when it was reported that the storm will peak on Friday evening, we decided to make other plans, as it will be unsafe to venture out,” he says.
So instead, the rabbi gathered up some volunteers and made dozens of care packages, complete with Shabbat candles, fresh-baked challah, chicken with gravy and rice pilaf, pasta with pesto, Moroccan machbucha salad and honey cake.
“We want to make sure that, especially during this trying time, students and others will have a Shabbat experience,” says Novack, noting that he remains in touch with students and will spend Shabbat with his family hunkered down as the storm moves north.
At the end of the day, Rabbi Ezagui suggests that people remember that there is a greater power at work. “You can’t get nervous about this. You need to relax and remember that G‑d is running the show. That’s what can calm you. He knows you are out there.
“You do what you can to do,” he advises. “And the rest, leave up to G‑d.”