Among Ian’s wounds, Jews see healing, renewal in Yom Kippur

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Even though a devastating hurricane tore through his community just days earlier, there was nothing to stop Rabbi Yitzchok Minkowicz from holding prayer services Tuesday night for the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. start.

Across southwest Florida devastated by Hurricane Ian, Jews planned to hold worship services for Yom Kippur, a day on which they fast for 24 hours and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs they have committed during the year, although that many were doing so and plans changed a lot. with the storm.

Some communities skipped attending the vital Kol Nidre service in person on Tuesday evening out of concern that it would be too dangerous to drive at night with debris piled up on the roads and traffic lights out. Others were being held online.

At the Minkowicz synagogue, the Lubavitch Chabad of Southwest Florida religiously traditional in Fort Myers, in Fort Myers, members planned a community dinner before the fast began at sunset on Tuesday, with the help of caterers from South Florida, on the side another of the state. Several buildings on the 5-acre (2-hectare) campus were flooded. But the main building, where 50 or so people took shelter during the hurricane, was relatively unscathed because of its height.

Power returned Sunday night, and the campus was turned into a community center of sorts, with food trucks and a food pantry. A large tent was erected in the parking lot where members of the synagogue — or anyone from the community — could stop for a meal.

“Our most important thing is to make God happy,” Minkowicz said. “If God is pleased, everything works out.”

At Temple Beth El in Fort Myers, the congregation planned to have in-person Yom Kippur services on Wednesday, with Kol Nidre services available online only on Tuesday night. However, the plans were frowned upon by the community, which is part of the progressive restoration movement, since utility trucks were using the parking lot as a rest area for utility worker breaks. The trucks were expected to be gone at Wednesday’s services.

Electricity was restored at the synagogue, whose property was littered with fallen trees and debris, but traffic lights were still down in the neighborhood, so Rabbi Nicole Luna said congregants should consider their safety when making a personal decision. Some of the more than 250 families in the community lost their homes.

“People are broken and need resources and supplies, but also community and hope,” Luna said.

Rabbi Lawrence Dermer and his wife, Robin, decided not to hold a Kol Nidre service Tuesday night at their synagogue, Shalom Life Center, out of concern for the safety of their congregation. The evening service begins the holiday with a chanted prayer asking to be released from all obligations that cannot be fulfilled.

“We didn’t want to encourage anyone to go out after dark. The roads are dangerous and in some areas there is still a curfew,” said Lawrence Dermer, who leads the community, which welcomes members of all Jewish backgrounds.

The Shalom Life Center had planned to hold daytime services on Wednesday but had to skip a traditional community “fast break” on Wednesday evenings, when Jews feast on bagels, lox, whitefish and other staples after 24 an hour without eating. , until the community comes out of crisis mode from the storm, said Lawrence Dermer.

There are about 7,500 Jews in the Fort Myers metro area, with an additional 7,500 in the Naples area further south, according to estimates published in the 2020 American Jewish Yearbook. Compared to other parts of the state, the Jewish community in southwest Florida relatively new, and the oldest community, Temple Beth El, was created in 1954 with 22 families.

Besides questioning their religious beliefs, the devastating storm has renewed the faith of many members of their community, said Lawrence Dermer and his wife. During the 10 days between the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, Jews traditionally say to each other, “May you be written in the Book of Life,” in an effort to be blessed with another year of them. . life.

“Yom Kippur is about the fragility of life. If anything, we have seen with Ian how impermanent life is,” said Robin Dermer. “The meaning of Yom Kippur, renewal and connection with God, will be deepened, not diminished.”


Schneider reported from Orlando, Florida. Added by Giovanna Dell’Orto in Minneapolis.

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