FROM THE SEPT. 20 ISSUE
BEFORE Kol Nidre services Sept. 13, a historic flood swallowing Boulder and surrounding areas had displaced families, damaged synagogues and threatened or cancelled services — until determination came to the rescue.
Orthodox Kehilath (Boulder) Aish Kodesh hit the Internet first, sending a mass email to 500 residents announcing that heavy rains and flooding had destroyed the tent it had prepared for the holiest day of the Jewish year.
The email also offered alternative locations for services, including hard-hit Chabad centers in Boulder and Longmont and Denver synagogues out of harm’s way.
Elon Bar-Evan, executive director of Boulder Aish Kodesh, said the tent and parking lot were under water, and that many prayer books intended for the services were ruined.
Rabbi Marc Soloway, spiritual leader of Conservative Bonai Shalom, told the Intermountain Jewish News Friday that his synagogue had sustained significant flooding. The entire basement, including the social hall, “is submerged. Fortunately, there has been no damage to the sifrei Torah.
“Our Yom Kippur services are scheduled elsewhere [the Naropa Institute], but it is unclear whether we will be able to have them there at this point due to flooded roads and so forth. It’s a mess.”
No one answered the phone at Har HaShem, Boulder’s major Reform synagogue, because the power was out. Yom Kippur services were scheduled to take place next door at the Boulder Valley Community Church.
“The lower level of the main building was under four feet of water,” says communications and membership director Ellen Kowitt, contacted by the IJN at her home in Erie, Colo.
Because Kowitt often works from home, she was able to update Har HaShem’s website.
“Gary Fifer, our executive director, was bailing out water, Rabbi Joshua Rose has been praying, and I’ve been issuing emails and updating our site,” she says.
Rose managed to write an email to the congregation:
“The Talmud teaches that rain is a sign of blessing. That might sound questionable right now. Whether we can turn this into a blessing remains to be seen . . . I believe in us.”
Har HaShem’s phones were scheduled to be restored by Tuesday.
Chany Scheiner of Chabad of Boulder describes a scene of utter chaos at the shul, which is attached to the side of the Scheiners’ home.
“CU and other places closed on Thursday,” she says. “My husband Rabbi Pesach Scheiner and I thought they might be making a big deal out of nothing. Then we knew it was serious.
“There was a flood in front of our house, and the backyard was a nice sized swimming pool. We had a few inches of water in the shul, but the room next to it was submerged. That’s where we have classes and host meals.”
The Scheiners and their children (six live at home) hesitated to evacuate the home. Non-Jewish neighbors convinced them to leave.
“We went in their car,” she says. “It was like the parting of the Reed Sea.”
After staying with friends of their neighbors, the Scheiners returned to assess the damage.
The family got on their knees to clean the small worship space and began repairing areas of the house.
Reconstructionist Beth Evergreen, located in the foothills just outside Denver, nearly shut its doors on Kol Nidre due to increased flooding.
According to Rabbi Jamie Arnold, the road cutting through Evergreen was closed all day Friday, which meant congregants coming from Conifer would have to tackle a circuitous route from the opposite direction.
A shuttle was also cancelled.
MEANWHILE, Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm of Chabad at CU was receiving one call a minute and consecutive emails Friday morning. “We’ve already cleaned up our mess — only a few inches in the shul,” he says. “But it’s pretty intense.”
Students contacted Wilhelm to find out where they could attend services in Boulder. Some unable to make it home to Denver also called him.
Others trapped in inaccessible areas requested basic supplies.
“The saddest part for me is that there are people who are completely stranded,” he says.
“They can’t even get out of their cars. Another girl in an isolated canyon has no food or water.”
He mentions countless emails from students asking, “What can we do? Just let us know.”
“Kids go all over the world to volunteer,” Wilhelm says. “Now they have an opportunity to volunteer in their own backyard. And they are doing it. I am so encouraged by this.
“Yes, we will have Kol Nidre services at the Chabad House tonight,” he assured. “We have to hold it in the lobby. But there’s no need to RSVP. Everyone is welcome. Everything is ready.”
Flooding virtually annihilated the Chabad Jewish Center of Longmont, located about 15 miles northeast of Boulder in Boulder County. “Our shul was completely ruined,” Rabbi Yakov Borenstein told the IJN Friday.
“It looks like an island. We are right next to a creek here.”
Borenstein managed to save the sefer Torah, siddurim and other ritual items before he was ordered out of the building Thursday.
Later, at 3 a.m. in the morning, the rabbi, his wife and four children were evacuated from their home.
“Our Hebrew school is gone,” he says of the center. “The water is two feet deep. Humidity has warped all our sacred books.
“About 200 people attended our Rosh Hashanah services this year,” he says.
“For Yom Kippur I called the Marriott and got the last room. We are here now.
“I don’t even know whether we’ll have a minyan at Yom Kippur.”
Still, Borenstein hoped for the best.
Asked whether he would change his sermon, he laughed. “I think I’ll mix it up tonight.”
In its Friday afternoon email, Kehilath Aish Kodesh added Bonai Shalom to the list of synagogues holding Yom Kippur services.
It contained a message from Rabbi Soloway:
“We are pleased to let you know that we will be able to proceed with our Kol Nidre services tonight as planned at the Naropa Nalanda campus (which was closed to the public) . . . Do not park at Bonai. The parking lot is flooded . . . Park anywhere at Naropa, but the rear of the back lot has deep water and should be avoided . . .
“Even on this most important day in our calendar, care and safety for human life are of greatest importance. Pikuah nefesh, saving our own or another’s life takes precedence over any other Jewish law or practice.
“While we are thrilled that we are still able to gather together and have our Yom Kippur services, we emphatically remind you not to put yourself or anyone else in danger to get to services as the flood waters continue to flow in our streets and homes.”
THE Day of Atonement is a day of awe under any circumstance. Jews set aside more than 24 hours to pray, reflect, atone and beseech G-d to be sealed in the Book of Life for another year.
In the midst of a catastrophic flood that slammed a geographical area slightly smaller than Connecticut, Jews felt a surge of appreciation for community and gratitude to strangers.
Har HaShem’s Rabbi Rose, Rabbi Emerita Deborah Bronstein and cantorial soloist Holli Berman led Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services at the church as scheduled.
Volunteers cleared the main sanctuary late Friday in order to hold family services at the synagogue.
“Attendance was a little lower than usual,” Ellen Kowitt says, “but there were plenty of people.
“In a way, those most affected really wanted to come to services, find community and embrace the services.
“Some people couldn’t make it, including a person who was supposed to read from the Torah. We have erected our sukkah. The parking lot is muddy but passable.”
Steve Hill, president of Bonai Shalom, says the most wonderful part of the weekend was receiving permission to hold services at Naropa despite the university’s closure.
Several Boulder Aish Kodesh members attended Bonai Shalom’s services.
“Bonai and Boulder Aish Kodesh are neighbors,” Hill says. “We’re very close.”
Still, he describes observing Yom Kippur in Noah’s ark as “surreal. That’s the best word I have. We tried to focus on helping each other in terms of immediate needs. But there will be long-term needs as well.”
Rabbi Wilhelm, who rewrote his sermon Thursday night to emphasize the need for volunteers “to seize the day,” says that a few hundred people comprising a “very different turnout” prayed at CU Chabad over Yom Kippur.
Kol Nidre “felt like a relief,” he says. “Students were happy to get out of their dorms and join us. There was a very special energy.
“It’s as if we were all able to sit down, relax, and think about something other than the rain. The services were so meaningful.
“A lot of people are unaccounted for, and those numbers will change. We felt the need to pray for them and connect to each other even more than before.”
While some stories he heard continue to haunt him, Wilhelm is enthusiastic about the corps of student volunteers traversing flood-torn communities. He can’t count the number of helping hands coming to the aid of Boulder.
Lubavitch of Boulder County was able to have services thanks to the assistance of non-Jews in the neighborhood. “About 30 people came, but a lot stayed home,” Chany Scheiner says. “It was a lot tighter than before in terms of space.
“Non-Jews spent hours scrubbing floors, washing tablecloths and bringing clean rugs before Kol Nidre. They were so wonderful.
“May we have a flood of blessings next year,” says Scheiner, exhausted yet exhilarated.
JAMIE Arnold said that 30 to 40 “hard-core” congregants made it to Beth Evergreen for Kol Nidre, and about 300 attended Yom Kippur services the next day, when the clouds dissipated long enough to allow for safe travel.
“I didn’t change my sermon substantially,” he says, “although Iincluded prayers for healing.
“My sermon was about the function of community — how it provides sanctuary. I think that said it all.”
One man who did not wish to be identified observed the holidays in his home with his family. It was simply too difficult for him to attend services.
“Yom Kippur is where you are,” says the father of two. “We had the machzor, we had the parsha, so we did it at home.
“It’s not as unusual as it sounds. We lived in the mountains, so often when the weather was bad we spent time alone on Yom Kippur.”
He describes his holiday experience with his wife and family as “sweet and wonderful. It lacks community, but it was sweet for us. It was the essence of Yom Kippur — very quiet, very nice.”
Jonathan Lev, executive director of the Boulder JCC, which also sustained damage, broke away to spend a few hours at Bonai Shalom’s Kol Nidre service.
“Although I couldn’t stay long at services, people were talking to each other, pooling resources and figuring out what was necessary,” he says.
“There are no perfect solutions. Roads have washed away. Homes are gone. The whole thing is tragic.
“What’s been incredible is the level of support that everyone has given to each other,” he says.
“This is the Boulder Jewish community.”
Yakov Borenstein, who worried that he might not draw a minyan to Yom Kippur services in Longmont, says almost 100 people showed up “and I tried to inspire every one of them.
“It was truly, truly a blessing to have such a crowd show up. I am truly humbled.
“Thank G-d, we have been allowed back into our home,” he said Sunday as rain continued to fall on Longmont.
“The Chabad center has suffered substantial damage. A company has pumped out two feet of water and someone is coming to fix the drywall.
“But my home is OK and I have to praise G-d for this.”
Where is G-d in a flood of this magnitude?
“G-d has a purpose in everything,” Borenstein says. “I see a tremendous amount of good in people. Volunteers and donations are coming from all over.
“What a beautiful world we live in.”
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News