Bay Area Jews Help Pick Up the Pieces While Telling Tales of the ’89 Quake

After brushing off the dust of last week’s devastating 6.9 earthquake here, the Jewish community of San Francisco has moved quickly not only to restore normalcy to their own institutions, but to reach out and help their entire community recover.

On Tuesday, a week after the earthquake struck, representatives of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation presented a check for $250,000 to the Red Cross.

“The federation has advanced these funds now because of the urgent and immediate need. We anticipate that individual contributions to the federation’s earthquake relief effort will far exceed this advance,” said JCF Executive Director Rabbi Brian Lurie.

In addition, federations in the Greater East Bay and San Jose joined with the United Way to raise funds, and synagogues in the area mounted individual campaigns with all donations directed at the local nonsectarian relief agencies.

Those needing relief included members of the Jewish community. In San Francisco’s Mariana District, between 40 and 50 Jewish households were declared unsafe and their residents temporarily homeless.

The Jewish Family and Children’s Services is working to relocate the Jewish families and individuals left homeless to temporary quarters. Scores of people have called the agency to offer housing.

One synagogue, Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, had to house its own rabbi and cantor. Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz and Cantor Roslyn Barak, both residents of the Marina District, had their homes damaged in the earthquake and stayed with congregants who volunteered their homes.

CLOSE CALL

Fortunately, Jewish institutions, with only a few exceptions, emerged relatively undamaged.

The San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council inspected synagogues around the Bay Area. “Damage as far as we can ascertain is minimal,” said Jerry Isaak-Shapiro, assistant director of the agency. “In that way, we are quite lucky.”

Some Jewish organizations, however, did not share in that luck. A landmark building in Oakland that contained the offices of United Synagogue of America and Young Judaea has been condemned, and both organizations have been temporarily relocated to private homes.

In San Francisco, a workshop operated by Jewish Family and Children’s Services was condemned, and the Jewish Community Library suffered extensive damage.

At the Home for Jewish Parents, staff and residents mourned a loss of life: Anamafi Kalousa Moala, 23, a part-time certified nursing assistant at the home, who apparently was the only person killed on the Bay Bridge the day of the quake.

In addition to offering financial help, Jewish groups and individuals are pitching into the general relief effort in a variety of ways.

Teen-age members of San Francisco B’nai B’rith Girls went door-to-door to homes and stores collecting several truckloads of food and clothing, which were delivered to the Salvation Army on Sunday.

Local members of B’nai B’rith and B’nai B’rith Women, in the throes of the organizations’ annual drive for the homeless, are now donating clothing, sleeping bags and blankets to victims of the earthquake.

The San Francisco Jewish Community Center opened its doors to earthquake victims, providing them with hot showers and hot meals plus support groups to deal with emotional problems.

Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic synagogue which withstood the 1906 earthquake, had some new faces in its building this week.

The freshman and sophomore classes of neighboring St. Rose Academy resumed their studies in the synagogue, after their own building suffered extensive earthquake damage.

‘WHERE WERE YOU?’

“I think in times of crisis such as this, all of us, whatever religion or race, should be reaching out to one another. That’s been the spirit of the Quake of ’89,” said Rabbi Martin Weiner, whose board OK’d the temporary housing arrangement with no hesitation.

All through the community, the simple question asked repeatedly since the earthquake has been: “Where were you?” The answers to that question ranged from the hair-raising to the amusing.

Lucie Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Greater East Bay, was heading eastbound on Interstate 580 toward Interstate 80 and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, her regular route toward her Mill Valley home.

She heard a deafening noise and began to see chunks of concrete falling in front of her ’80 Volkswagen Vanagan.

As the cement fell on cars around her, she began praying. “My prayer was ‘God, either kill me or keep me alive, but please don’t crush me in my car.” Miraculously, she made it through.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum was standing in line in an upper deck concession stand at Candlestick Park before the start of the Bay Area World Series when the earth began rumbling.

He said an eerie silence fell over the crowd, which moments before had been joyous, cacophonous. “I was grateful when it ended,” said the executive director of the Northern California Hillel Council. “What ran through my mind was that I couldn’t believe this was how I was going to die.”

On a lighter note, Israeli Consul General Harry Kney-Tal’s biggest complaint was that he had gotten almost no sleep for four days after the quake.

DELUGED WITH CALLS

He was kept awake because his office was deluged with calls from anxious people in Israel, who wanted his office to connect them with relatives and friends living in the area temporarily, or on vacation here.

“The media played up the destruction angle, and people in Israel believed that all of the Bay Area was destroyed,” he said.

It was so draining that the consulate resorted to advertising to notify Israelis living in the Bay Area of the concern back home. The ad in the abbreviated Sunday Chronicle-Examiner read: “We kindly request that you make contact with your family and friends in Israel.”

Added Kney-Tal in an interview: “Or we’ll not get any sleep here.”

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