A Reform Congregation Emerges from the Flood
by Rabbi Joshua Rose
On Rosh HaShanah we celebrated Creation, and by Yom Kippur we had been hit by the flood.
The deluge began Thursday afternoon. I posted pictures to Twitter and Facebook, amused by the enormous puddles everywhere. Two hours later, it was clear that this was no joke. The four lane road in front of our synagogue, Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder, CO, was now a rushing river. Muddy water poured in everywhere. Our executive director and I waded through more than a foot of water in the parking lot, grabbed the sifrei torah from the ark, wrapped them in plastic, and put them in a high place. We cut the power and headed for high ground.
The situation at Har HaShem remains critical as we recover from this 500-year flood. In all, we estimate that we sustained about $150,000 to $200,000 worth of damage and we now know that our insurance policy will cover only a tiny fraction of this. We have established a fund, to which you may donate here (or through our website). Our entire lower level, with eight classrooms, was destroyed. Carpet, drywall, furniture, shelving, school supplies, congregational archives – gone. Our sanctuary, social hall and South Building flooded as did two residential houses we own. Our parking lot was covered with inches of mud and debris.
While all of this has been painful and difficult, there were no significant injuries or deaths in the Jewish community. We pray that God grants strength and comfort to the many in the region who have lost so much more.
A little light dispels great darkness, our Sages taught. Indeed. Many people have come together to bring the synagogue back to life. he neighborhood system we created this past year enabled the 30 neighborhood captains, responsible for creating community and fostering Jewish living in their neighborhoods , to quickly and locally identify need and volunteers. It was moving to see members in need being helped by neighbor-congregants they may not have known hours before. At the synagogue itself, roughly 50 member volunteers have worked tirelessly to get us cleaned up. Our Youth Group kids spent the unexpected no-school here, inspiring other volunteers by working their hearts out. Nechama, a Jewish Response to Disaster, has done untold good in Boulder and have been lifesavers for Har HaShem. They’re helping us rebuild.
More light: we are a homeless overflow shelter in the winter and summer months and offered several homeless folks who are guests during the year an hourly wage to help downstairs. We are deeply impressed by their energy and dedication. My family won’t forget having them over for kiddush and lunch in our sukkah (I live next door to the synagogue) during a lunch break.
The entire Boulder community came together during this crisis. Students from CU Chabad, members of the neighboring Conservative congregation (whose synagogue was also badly damaged), strangers off the street – so many have reached out. The Federation has been wonderful, the JCC is by our side, Jewish Family Service has been a lifeline to many.
Several folks from across the country have reached out. Rabbi Hara Person of the CCAR and Rabbi Jan Offel of the URJ helped us get some books to replace those that were destroyed. Rabbi Deborah Prinz of the CCAR has reached out to help. And I’ve been so moved that several of you have extended a hand, as well.
We have a lot of work ahead. Most significant is addressing the huge financial setback. If you are moved to donate, you may do so here (or through our website), or through URJ Disaster Relief. Of course there are other challenges, from finding space for our delayed religious school start, to an overextended staff, to maintaining other programming during the coming weeks.
The deep connections between the creation story of Bereishit and the flood story are well known. Bereishit Rabbah teaches that initially God’s light was unobscured and could be seen from one end of the earth to the other. Acts of evil, including those of the generation of the flood, caused that light to be removed and concealed. Here, in these early days of the new creation of 5774 and in the wake of our flood, we have seen the unmistakable glow of divine light in the many acts of righteousness within our community and from far beyond. May we be strengthened to rebuild in the coming weeks and months.
Rabbi Joshua Rose is the rabbi of Congregation Har HaShem, in Boulder, CO. This post originally appeared at RavBlog, the blog of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and is reprinted with permission.