Widespread Damage Reported Jews Rally to Aid of Synagogues, Businesses, Homes Struck by Flood
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Widespread Damage Reported Jews Rally to Aid of Synagogues, Businesses, Homes Struck by Flood

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Jewish organizations, centers and individuals were reported rallying today to aid synagogues and Jewish businesses “wiped out” in Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., by the floods in the wake of tropical storm Agnes. Telephone lines to those cities were still down today, but reports reaching Jewish leaders and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here by other means told of considerable damage to Jewish facilities not known outside those areas until now. A JTA telephone survey of the stricken areas yesterday could not reach the hardest-hit communities because communications were out.

One synagogue said to have had most or all of its possessions washed away is Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg, led by Rabbi David Silver, uncle of Judy Silver Shapiro, the Cincinnati social worker who recently married activist Gavriel Shapiro in Moscow. Rabbi Silver is a son of the late Rabbi Eliezer L. Silver, who was born in Russia and served congregations in Harrisburg, Springfield, Mass., and Cincinnati.

Other synagogues seriously damaged, according to Rabbi Henry Siegman, executive vice-president of the Synagogue Council of America, are (Orthodox) Congregation Ohav Zedek in Wilkes-Barre, led by Rabbi Jerome Kerzner; (Conservative) Temple Israel in Wilkes-Barre led by Rabbi Abraham Barras, and (Conservative) Temple Beth-El in Harrisburg, headed by Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg. Rabbi Siegman said the SCA was asking synagogues across the country to send prayer books and artifacts to these and other badly hit Orthodox and Conservative temples, as well as the Reform Temple B’nai B’rith in Wilkes-Barre, led by Rabbi Arnold Shevlin.

Rabbi Siegman added that “very extensive damage” had been caused to the Jewish cemetery and to the United Hebrew Institute Ben Zion Academy in Wilkes-Barre. He said the SCA was in contact with the Office of Emergency Planning in Washington, and was seeking a federal or local governmental helicopter to fly a delegation to the stricken area.

Wikes-Barre’s Temple Israel has been “entirely washed out,” with its possessions “just about entirely destroyed,” it was reported by Dr. Morton Siegel, executive director of the United Synagogue of America. He said he had learned “in a roundabout way” that most synagogues in the area had been spared, but that many Jewish homes were “washed out,” including that of Rabbi Joshua Adler of Congregation Chizuk Emuna. Similarly struck, said Dr. Siegel, was the Solomon Schechter Day School in Chevy Chase, Md. In Pittsburgh and upstate New York, he added, no serious damage to Jewish property has been reported.

Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, said Rabbi Adler had turned his temple into a temporary home for homeless Jewish families and has been feeding hundreds of evacuees with bar mitzvah supplies. Possessions are floating away and there is no flood insurance, Rabbi Kelman added.

He reported that Dr. Herbert Seltzer, head of the Daughters of Jacob Geriatric Center in the Bronx, was offering a torah to any flood-stricken synagogue that requested it. Dr. Seltzer, who is chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Assistance Fund, has been receiving unsolicited checks from RAA members for aid to victims.


The Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds is “in touch” with its Philadelphia Federation, which is “giving direct help” to victimized temples in the form of prayer shawls, prayer books, bus transportation and clean-up aid, according to Charles Zibbell, associate CJF executive director. “Long-range” aid is not yet possible, he said. He reported that many Jewish businesses had suffered “terrible damage” and been “wiped out,” but said he did not immediately know their names. CJF executive director Philip Bernstein said the communal aid to victims was “a marvelous example of people pitching in.”

“The response was one of the most beautiful things we have ever encountered,” it was asserted by Seymour Brotman, executive director of the Scranton (Pa.) Jewish Community Center, a member of the National Jewish Welfare Board. “People immediately began calling to volunteer their services, homes for sleeping, food, clothing, medical supplies and whatever other necessities might be needed to make the evacuees more comfortable.” The center accommodated some older residents of the B’nai B’rith Apartment House in Wilkes-Barre. The Allentown, Philadelphia and Essex County (N J.) JCCs worked around the clock rushing supplies and medicaments to Wilkes-Barre and other flooded areas, he said.

Arthur Brodkin, community consultant to the Middle Atlantic Area Council of the JWB, said the JCCs in Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre and in Elmira, N.Y., had been inundated and made temporarily unusable, while the JCCs in Reading and York, Pa., had discontinued services following alert warnings. Mrs. Adele Ginzberg, of New York, an 86-year-old member of the National Women’s League, helped rally organizational support and fired off a check. She is the widow of Prof. Louis Ginzberg, the Lithuanian-born scholar who was associated with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America for 51 years. “I’m involved in everything humanitarian,” she told the JTA. “This is an emergency.”

Waters from the overflowing Rock Creek flooded the gymnasium and auditorium of Ohr Kodesh synagogue in Chevy Chase, Md., it was reported today in Washington. Rabbi Tzvi Porath also reported that an inner wall buckled. Extensive damage was caused to equipment, books and supplies in the Solomon Schechter Day School Joseph Miller, the synagogue executive director, said the synagogue had no insurance such losses.

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