Chabad Relief Now To Focus On Returning Evacuees

Chabad Relief Now To Focus On Returning Evacuees

Some of the donated goods Chabad has made available to evacuees

by R. Rosenthal - San Diego, CA

October 25, 2007

The winds that whipped the fires across hundreds of thousands of acres in San Diego County have died down somewhat, but Chabad has fired up its relief efforts.

As evacuees make their way back home, Chabad’s thirty representatives in the San Diego area are shifting gears from their initial scramble to offer shelter and distribute kosher meals at Qualcomm stadium.

Their focus is now on assisting those who lost homes in the fire and on restoring a sense of normalcy to a community that scattered before the oncoming flames.

Tomorrow evening all Chabad centers in the area (except – at the time of this report – Rancho Santa Fe which is still in a state of evacuation) will open their doors to the community for Shabbat dinner.

With many of the evacuees now out of harm’s way and able to return home, Chabad representatives extended invitations to a Shabbat dinner thanksgiving feast, which will begin with prayer services at 6 p.m. 

Thanks to donations to Chabad’s web-based fire relief fund, Chabad has been able to offer emergency funds for out of pocket expenses, a team of insurance and loss recovery professionals, short term housing in apartments in nearby La Jolla, support to exhausted fire fighters and hot meals for those still in need.

“Regardless of a person’s wealth or financial status, displacement and uncertainty affect us all,” Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, director of Chabad of S. Diego, told his community by email. “The greatest step anyone can take is to reach out to a friend and neighbor and lend emotional and physical support.”

Chabad’s representatives are uniquely positioned to relieve community members from the painful limbo of not knowing whether their homes were standing or cinders. As chaplain of the sheriff’s department, Rabbi Levi Raskin was allowed past National Guard troops keeping evacuees from returning to Rancho S. Fe.

“As of now no one in the community’s home got burnt down completely, but the area is definitely a disaster zone. The smoke is very heavy. Soot and ash are thick. We are in the heart of the fires,” Rabbi Raskin said.

As Rabbi Raskin and Rabbi Zalman Carlebach of Chabad of Downtown S. Diego drove through the streets, they phoned community members to give an account of their properties’ status. Their cell phones bleated constantly during the drive by. People were frantic for information they could not get from the news reports – where the fires were and were not. They also wanted to know if the Chabad Shluchim had a place for their elderly parents, “or if we could do something to keep the kids busy,” said Rabbi Raskin

To that end, Chabad Hebrew Academy (CHA) hosted activities at Chabad Jewish Center in University City. Children preschool age through eighth grade were welcomed for pizza lunch and programs led by CHA’s educators and extra curricular staff. More than a few hours of respite from the kids who have been out of school due to the fire, the program gave parents an opportunity to seek counsel from the rabbis.

Working through the upheaval of evacuation and the aftermath of the fires will take some time. Rabbi Chalom Mendel Boudjnah of Chabad at S. Diego State University already noted the changes it has wrought in the students who volunteered to distribute food at Qualcomm stadium.

“When they saw what happened, they woke up early and stayed until late, not for money, not for a party, but to give out food, to drag boxes of water bottles wherever they needed to go,” he said.

S. Diego’s air is so thick with soot, ash and noxious particles that Rabbi Carelbach, following the advice of health authorities, wears a mask over his mouth and nose outside.

But where there’s smoke, there’s a stoked community spirit. “Everyone wants to help out. You can feel it in the air.”

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