Historic Charleston Temple Spared by Hurricane, but Services in Doubt
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Historic Charleston Temple Spared by Hurricane, but Services in Doubt

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A graceful 149-year-old synagogue in Charleston, S.C., has remained standing through the Civil War, the earthquake of 1886 and now, Hurricane Hugo.

“We are very grateful to the Almighty for sparing us,” said Rabbi William Rosenthal, who leads Reform Congregation Kahal Kadosh-Beth Elohim, which is housed in the historic synagogue.

But while the temple has remained unscathed, its congregants are coping with the estimated $2 billion dollars worth of damage the hurricane has done to their city. Many have had their homes damaged, and most are without running water or electricity. Neither is expected to be restored soon.

“Since we have no power, we don’t know what we will do over the High Holy Days,” Rosenthal said in a telephone interview.

He said that if it is possible, he will hold Rosh Hashanah services during daylight hours. But even that may present a problem, since his synagogue is located in downtown Charleston, where local authorities are restricting access in order to prevent looting.

Gaining entrance to Conservative Temple Emanuel is also a problem, but for a different reason.

According to Milton Schwartz, a congregant who has surveyed the damage, more than 30 trees have fallen around the synagogue, and “the sanctuary is inaccessible.”

Schwartz, who was also reached by phone, reported that “part of the roof caved in over the rabbi’s office,” and that there are several minor leaks.


He also inspected one of the Jewish cemeteries in town and was grateful to discover that, although one of the outer walls had collapsed, all of the gravestones were still intact.

There is no word on the condition of Charleston’s Orthodox shul or historic Orthodox cemetery, both located downtown, where some buildings suffered severe damage.

Among the Charleston officials leading the cleanup effort are Police Chief Reuven Greenberg, the famous black Jewish officer who was once featured on the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” and Linda Lombard, who is the first Jewish woman to serve as chairwoman of the Charleston County Council.

In New York, meanwhile, the Jewish Community Relations Council is investigating the damage that Hurricane Hugo has done to the Puerto Rican Jewish community.

Michael Miller, executive director of JCRC, said that inquiries were being made as to the status of the “small but vital” Jewish community in San Juan, believed to number about 1,500.

The New York JCRC is working with local Hispanic leaders to bring aid to the hurricane victims and has set up a special relief fund.

Tens of thousands were left homeless on the island in the wake of the devastating storm, and 25,000 are reported to be living in Red Cross emergency shelters.

“The New York area is not only the home of the largest population of Jews outside Israel. But it is also the largest Puerto Rican population outside Puerto Rico,” Kenneth Bialkin, president of the JCRC, said in a statement.

“We feel close ties with the Hispanic community in New York and hope to do as much as possible to help their families and friends at their time of need.”

For information about the relief fund, contact the JCRC at 711 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017.

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