By Brad Weismann
THE rain began on Sept. 11. Boulder’s Conservative synagogue Congregation Bonai Shalom was in the midst of its High Holiday observances, two evenings away from Kol Nidre. Little did anyone know that by the time the Day of Atonement had passed, nearly every aspect of Bonais life would change.
Over the course of four harrowing days, the entire Front Range of Colorado was swamped under a deluge of between 15 and 20 inches of precipitation. From Fort Collins in the north to Eldorado Springs in the south, mountain riverbeds and channels filled and overflowed, knocking out roads, power, and homes, killing eight people.
The towns of Lyons and Jamestown were virtually destroyed and other places such as Nederland and Estes Park remained cut off for days.
Bonai Shalom is located in east Boulder, and the South Boulder Creek winds along the western edge of its property.
Although Bonai Shaloms presence in the floodplain had prompted its board to install various mitigation strategies in years past, the swift and heavy inundation proved too powerful to be withstood.
Thirty years after its founding, Bonai was about to face its biggest challenge.
Both the damage and response to it came quickly. Across the city, warning sirens began to wail; water levels rose with unprecedented swiftness. By Thursday, Sept. 12, the creek rapidly crested and overran both the shul and the house of Bonai Shaloms Rabbi Marc Soloway, immediately to the south of the main building.
Meanwhile, congregant Lisa Bates, leader of Bonai Shaloms Hesed Initiative, established a help-exchange board online, broadcasting the information to the entire community.
Rabbi Soloway left his house. As the downpour continued on Thursday, Bonai Shaloms professional staff secured their computers, locked up all records and secured the building, continuing to monitor the situation from their respective homes.
Representatives from Bonais board surveyed the site and began making plans. It was fortunate that Bonai Shaloms Yom Kippur services were already scheduled to take place nearby at Naropas Nalanda campus on Friday, Sept. 13, and Yom Kippur services on Saturday Sept. 14 could take place.
By the time Monday, Sept. 16 dawned, the waters had receded and the active stage of the crisis was over.
Important documents, devices, records, prayerbooks, Torahs,and other necessary materials were pulled out of Bonai and stashed in the homes of various volunteers, placed in storage or shuttled over to the Bonai Shaloms offices temporary workspace at the Boulder JCC.
NOW, Bonai Shalom faces the challenge and opportunity of rebuilding, quite literally from the ground up. Everything from four feet above street level and below at Bonai was ruined, including the buildings furnace, water heater, all kitchen appliances and storage, educational supplies and more.
Bonai President Steven Hill announced on Oct. 11 that a committee weve titled the architecture committee is being led . . . with the support of members with some of the most pertinent skills and experience . . .
The goal of this group is threefold: Regain partial use of the synagogue building and Rabbi Marcs basement; work to mitigate future flooding risk by addressing grading with possible flood prevention structures across both properties; and to determine the ideal long-term plan for the building which could include seeking a variance from the city on the current footprint.
The time horizon to complete these three efforts is the end of this calendar year.
An initial fundraising goal of $500,000 has been established in order to return the congregations home to functionality. Meanwhile, the assistance of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder allows Bonai to hold services and events in its building at 5001 Pennsylvania St., approximately a mile and a half southwest of Bonais Cherryvale site.
Religious school continues at the Boulder JCC.
The hard work and persistence of Bonais president, board, rabbi and community members ensures that the congregation will survive.
It may take some time to establish a new normal, but it is already apparent that Bonai Shalom cant be found at any particular location but rather in the hearts and can-do attitudes of its members.
Brad Weismann is the administrative manager of Bonai Shalom.
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