A Birmingham Synagogue Copes with Disaster

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04 May 2011

Dear Friends – I am writing from Birmingham, Alabama which is recovering from a natural disaster of biblical proportions. As you know, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and countless small towns in our area suffered incredible tragedy caused by this past week’s tornadoes. Within several miles of our home and shul, people have been killed, property damaged, homes destroyed. Pratt City, Pleasant Grove, Fultondale are among the places where only last week people lived and today no longer exist. As one now homeless former resident remarked recently, “Things here aren’t broken. They’re gone”. Anyone who has seen the photos can attest to the accuracy of that statement. Seeing it in person is overwhelming.


As a Jewish community, we are blessed to have come through with life and limb intact. As of this writing no one from the Jewish community is known to have been seriously injured or killed. Some have experienced property damage. Many of us are still in the dark, literally and figuratively. Tens of thousands of people in the area remain without electricity 5 days after the storm. Some don’t anticipate having electricity back for another week or more. Almost everyone’s perishable food has spoiled and several families can’t afford to replace it.


Our shul and community are responding to the tragedy by attempting to help those whose lives have been devastated by these storms. The medical professionals in our community are volunteering at emergency clinics, and as a community we are visiting people in shelters. We are collecting food, water, clothing, and baby items that are so desperately needed by so many. Because our shul has gas stoves, we were able to feed more than 100 people over Shabbat. We cooked by flashlight and ate by the light of glowsticks. Because we were blessed to have the power restored during Shabbat, our shul and our family home have become places of respite for the community. However, there is no guarantee that the power will remain. Our shul is trying to raise money to install a generator that can power the building so we can continue to provide space for eating, study, sleep, learning and prayer, as well as a place to shower, check e mail, or just escape the heat and humidity and enjoy the air conditioning.

At times like these, when the urge to shut down or cry out is great, we must heed the words of Rav Soloveitchik (Kol Dodi Dofek: “Listen-My Beloved Knocks”) about the Jewish response to suffering: “We do not inquire about the hidden ways of the Almighty but, rather, about the path wherein man shall walk when suffering strikes. We ask neither about the cause . . . nor about its purpose, but, rather, about how it might be mended and elevated.”


We ask that you assist the Jews in Birmingham as we attempt to mend some of the suffering that surrounds us. To aid our efforts, please donate to the Rabbis Discretionary Fund at www.kicong.org/give and mark your donation “Tornado Recovery Fund.” To read an up-to-date community report, please visit: More About the Tornado in Pleasant Grove

Thank you for your consideration.

B’Vracha, Eytan Yammer

Rabbi, Knesseth Israel Congregation

3100 Overton Rd, Birmingham AL, 35223

Office: (205) 969-5913 Fax: (205) 969-5912

Cell: (205) 201-0542 Home: (205) 747-0168


Photographs courtesy of Larry Brook/Southern Jewish Life – Top to Bottom, photos 1&2: Rabbi Ira Flax surveys devastation in the community of Pleasant Grove, Alabama; photo 3: Elie Lowenfeld, program director of the Jewish Disaster Response Corps views provisions donated by Knesseth Israel Congregation for supply distribution at First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove; Rabbi Eytan Yammer (right) with J.D. Smith, photo 5: Rabbi Avi Weiss on location gives support.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.