Floyd Fails to Flood out High Holidays in Jewish Communities on East Coast

Hurricane Floyd was certainly no picnic, but it wasn’t Noah’s flood, either.

That’s the assessment as Jewish communities on the East Coast cleaned up from last week’s hurricane as they commemorated Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and erected their booths to celebrate the upcoming holiday of Sukkot.

“We had a little water in the shul, but things were cleaned up by Sunday,” said Rabbi Eliot Malomet of Highland Park Conservative Temple in Highland Park, N.J.

While a lot of people in his synagogue lost power and thousands of dollars in property when their basements flooded, Malomet emphasized that the overall damage to the shul was relatively minor.

The synagogue’s sukkah, built by a local Jewish Boy Scout, also survived, after the schach, or Sukkah covering, was taken off before Floyd hit the area Sept. 15.

The bamboo coverings, which were placed inside the sukkah “got wet, but they didn’t go flying into the neighborhood.”

At nearby Rutgers University, which has several main campuses in New Jersey, dorms were closed down on Sunday evening — just as Yom Kippur began.

Rabbi David Gutterman, the school’s Hillel director, said not having water fountains available on one of Judaism’s days of fasting made some ironic sense. And now that the holiday is over, he added, students are adjusting.

“They’re drinking Snapple and drinking Coke. Students in general are very resourceful. They know how to end-run any catastophe,” said Gutterman, who had been unable to attend the school’s Shabbat services because of Floyd.

North Carolina was another state badly hit by the force of Floyd, which at its peak there generated wind gusts topping out at 110 miles per hour and killed 35.

“We essentially escaped,” said Judah Segal, the director of the Wake County Jewish Federation, which serves the area surrounding Raleigh, N.C. “No helicopters had to come over and pluck us off the roof,” he said, adding that, in addition to widespread power outages, local synagogues and his federation offices suffered some water damage.

Efforts to reach Bnai Israel Synagogue in the eastern town of Wilmington, one of the hardest-hit communities, were unsuccessful. But a voice on the message machine indicating a slew of events for Sukkot demonstrated that the shul was up and running.

For Malomet, the disaster even provided him with a little High Holidays humor. From the pulpit, he joked that perhaps the Raritan River had overflown its banks because it was filled with crumbs from the record number of people who participated this year in Tashlich, the service at the end of Rosh Hashanah when Jews cast away their sins.

The reaction to his joke: some groaning, which is nothing unfamiliar to synagogue-goers.

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