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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


November 16, 2018

California wildfires damage synagogues, camps and day school

(JTA)—The fires racing through Southern California have led to the evacuation of more than 260,000 people, burned over 83,000 acres and destroyed more than 170 homes, as well as damaged several Jewish institutions.

The Jewish institutions, including several synagogues, turned to their social media pages to distribute information and offer support. Many held Havdalah services on Saturday night at other nearby sites, most livestreamed on their social media pages, in order to provide support and healing for their members

At the Ilan Ramon Day School in Agoura, fire destroyed the school’s computer lab, administration building and a bathroom.

“Our school, at its core, has never been about the physical space or the buildings in which the children learn. Our school is a sacred and special community,” the head of school, Yuri Hronsky, wrote Friday in a Facebook post. “Our school is about heart and soul, not about brick and mortar. I wish I had better news to share as we enter Shabbat this evening.”

The school launched a GoFundMe page on Friday titled “Help Rebuild Ilan Ramon Day School,” with a goal of $750,000.

The fire also reached the Shalom Institute, a camp and conference center located in the mountains of Malibu. In a message sent Saturday, institute leaders said in a letter that the fire had caused damage to the facility but it was not yet known how serious. The staff, animals and Torah scrolls located on the campus of the institute were safely evacuated on Friday, according to the message signed by Gil Breakman and Rabbi Bill Kaplan, the president and executive director, respectively, of the Shalom Institute, and Joel Charnick, director of Camp JCA Shalom.

“We know this news is upsetting to hear and we share your sadness,” the message said. “Camp is magical, but its magic transcends the buildings and structures. The magic comes from the loving community that we create when we are together. Though these losses may be painful, we know that the memories, friendships and joy that this place brings to so many lives on.”

Camp Hess Kramer, a camp owned by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said in a message to camp families that “at least some structures” at the camp were consumed by the fire. The camp’s Torah scrolls were evacuated ahead of the fire, and the camp is fully insured, according to the message.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all the first responders working so hard to protect life and property and to those who are suffering. May we begin a new week with them and each other in our prayers,” read the message, posted on Facebook and signed by the synagogue and camp leadership.

The Reform Congregation Or Ami of Calabasas on Friday set up a “Kid Camp and Adult Hangout” at a nearby high school, which was scheduled to continue on Sunday.

“For anyone needing support, food, or simply a space to be,” the synagogue said on its website. “We will provide breakfast, snacks, and lunch. We also have games and activities for kids, as well as spaces for adults to gather and process. Teens: come be with your friends, or hang out with kids. There will be counselors available for support for anyone who wishes it.”

On Friday, the rabbi and president of Temple Adat Elohim, a Reform synagogue in Thousand Oaks, located in the same neighborhood as the Borderline Bar and Grill, the site of a deadly shooting on Wednesday night, managed to enter the synagogue on Friday and remove its four Torah scrolls as mandatory evacuations were underway.

The synagogue’s cantor, David Shukiar, on Saturday posted on the synagogue’s Facebook page that the grounds of the synagogue had been burnt but that “the temple is in great shape.” He noted that the homes in the area of the synagogue were “burnt to the ground.”

Some 175 families who make up the congregation of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue were evacuated from their homes, as was the synagogue. On Saturday, the synagogue posted on its Facebook page that the building remained unharmed.  The Torah scrolls had been removed a day earlier as a precaution to the Kehillat Israel synagogue in Pacific Palisades, which played host to a bar mitzvah that had been scheduled for the the Malibu Jewish Center. The family of the bar mitzvah invited the entire congregation to gather at the synagogue and celebrate with them.

In a message titled “We are here for you” posted Friday on the website of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, federation CEO Jay Sanderson, wrote: “The past few weeks have tested our strength and resolve as a community and a nation.”

“I want to assure you that we are doing all we can to help our community as this natural disaster affects our Jewish institutions and homes,” he also wrote.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Friday for families and institutions in Calabasas, Malibu and Thousand Oaks

Strong winds were forecast to pick up in the area on Sunday, which combined with little moisture in the air and extremely dry ground from months of drought could cause the fires to continue to spread, according to Accu-Weather.

California camps vow to rebuild in aftermath of still raging wildfires

(JTA)—Two camps that suffered major damage in the wildfires that have raged in Southern California sent a message addressed to the “camp family”: We will rebuild and we will endure.

On Sunday evening, the leaders of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles and the camps it runs, Hess Kramer in Malibu and Gindling Hilltop, said that although the full extent of the damages won’t be determined for some time, “we know that it is severe.”

The night before, the temple hosted a special camp-style Havdalah ceremony.

The message said that among the buildings and areas lost at Hess Kramer are two halls, the climbing wall, a library and the ark, along with several staff residences and all but two of the cabins. At Hilltop, all the structures were lost with the exception of two cinder-block staff housing units.

The staff and Torah scrolls had been evacuated from the camps before the fire spread.

“Saturday night’s Havdalah gathering poignantly reminded us that camp is really about the people and what we do together,” the message said. “The location will be a different and temporary one, but we will be together this summer. There will be camp. Then, we will rebuild. Hess Kramer and Hilltop will endure.”

The message used the hashtags #KramerNeverStops #HilltopNeverStops.

At the Havdalah ceremony, the rabbi of Camp Hess Kramer, David Eshel, said fire has played an important role in Jewish history. The service was live-streamed on Facebook.

Before he knew the extent of the damage to the camps owned by the temple, Eshel told the campers, current and going back many decades: “We remember God spoke to Moses through the burning bush to inspire our people to freedom. God led us through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. This flame will not destroy … rather this flame will light our way to a bright, bright future.”

Campers shared their memories in the comments, all expressing great sadness at the extent of the destruction.

“So many wonderful memories of years as a camper and CIT, especially at Hilltop,” Leslie Cole wrote. “One of my very favorite places is Rabbi Wolf’s Inspiration Point. I used to hike up there, look around and just feel at one with God and the world. Camp was such a formative part of my Jewish identity. Those memories will always be with me and with my kids, who have been and are JCA campers and counselors. Our community is strong and full of life and we will rebuild, as we carry the old memories and make new ones.”

Two people have died in the Southern California blazes called the Woolsey and Hill fires. The fires have destroyed some 90,000 acres and are responsible for the destruction of 179 homes and other buildings, while another 57,000 remain threatened.

In Northern California, Camp Fire has left 29 people dead and destroyed 113,000 acres as well as 6,453 homes and 260 other structures, including the entire town of Paradise. As of Monday morning it was about 25 percent contained.

More than 300,000 people in total have been forced to evacuate their homes in the northern and southern parts of the state, some 170,000 in Los Angeles County alone.

More than 300 rockets from Gaza rain down on southern Israel, hitting a bus and homes

JERUSALEM (JTA)—More than 300 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza rained down Monday evening on southern Israel, including one that hit a bus, seriously injuring a young man.

The Israel Defense Forces responded by launching attacks on Hamas sites in Gaza.

The man, 19, was on the bus when it was hit by what was identified as an anti-tank missile. Moments earlier the bus had been full of some 50 soldiers. He was evacuated to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center. He was later identified in reports as an Israeli soldier.

At least 29 Israelis have been were injured by shrapnel and flying glass, and dozens traumatized, the public broadcaster Kan reported.

Rockets directly hit a home in Netivot, and homes were hit in Sderot and Ashkelon, where the house caught fire. A gas leak in Sderot next to a corner supermarket was ignited by a rocket and firefighters were working to put out the fire. In addition, a gas depot in Sderot took a direct hit.  An apartment building in Ashkelon was hit by a rocket, injuring several people.

About 60 of the rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Extra batteries had arrived in the area earlier in the day following clashes on the border after an Israeli army special forces operation was exposed on Sunday night.

The rockets set off Code Red sirens throughout southern Israeli communities, including for the first time in decades in Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea. The rockets began falling at 4:30 p.m., with more than 100 fired by 6.

The IDF called on residents of Gaza border communities to remain in place in their bomb shelters and safe rooms, and on the residents of the northern Negev, including Beersheba, to remain near their shelters.

Later Monday, the IDF said in a statement that it struck more than 20 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza—hours later upping the number to more than 70—using warplanes, combat helicopters and tanks. Targets included military compounds, observation posts and high-trajectory rocket launcher, according to the military. Later on Monday evening, Israeli bombers destroyed the Hamas-affiliated Al Aqsa TV station, after firing warning missiles, to encourage the evacuation of the building.

Palestinian sources reported that three Palestinians, including two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and one from Islamic Jihad, were killed in the strikes. Israel and others consider both groups terrorist organizations.

The IDF warned Hamas, with its spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, saying in a tweet that the terrorist group will “feel the power of the IDF’s response in the coming hours.”

“The attempt to harm civilians is unacceptable,” he said, “and we will continue to respond with force.”


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