NEW YORK, Sept. 15 (JTA) Expecting that Hurricane Ivan will pack a wallop, synagogues across Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle are canceling High Holiday services. Others are hunkering in the face of the storm, promising to remain open for Rosh Hashanah, even as they warn congregants to exercise extreme caution and prepare for much-diminished attendance. Ivan, which may hit the area as a Category 4 hurricane, could bring the region up to 15 inches of rain, 140-mile-per-hour winds and a storm surge from the ocean that could swamp protective levees around coastal cities. But it is unlikely to dampen the spirits of those seeking to celebrate the holiday, said Emily Grotta, communications director at the Union for Reform Judaism. “As synagogues in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana are canceling services and evacuating, congregations across the country are opening their doors, offering home hospitality, and even offering to schedule extra services if necessary,” Grotta said. Congregations in Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut, among other places, have posted messages on the union’s online listserv offering hospitality to Ivan’s evacuees. “It’s Rosh Hashanah, one of the two days that Jews, whoever they may be, want to go to temple, especially when they’re in such need,” Grotta said. “It’s just wonderful the way it’s turned out. People are saying, ‘Absolutely, come here.’ The messages of support have been amazing.” At Ahavas Chesed Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in Mobile, Ala., a city expected to bear the brunt of Ivan’s fury, an outgoing answering-machine message informs congregants that services are canceled for Wednesday and Thursday, but will take place on Friday and Saturday. Temple B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, Miss., canceled Thursday services. Many other shuls, such as B’nai Israel synagogue in Pensacola, Fla., have canceled services entirely. Outgoing phone messages at synagogues in the affected areas advise callers of revised schedules, emergency phone numbers and alternate service locations, some more than a hundred miles away. Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, of the Chabad house in New Orleans, said he has not canceled services but expects reduced attendance for the holiday. “The thing we’re most worried about is power,” he said, insisting the shul would get a minyan. “We’re not expecting to have any real major problems.” Sam Masur, president of Temple Shalom in Lafayette, La., said about 30 people have called his temple seeking last-minute accommodation. Almost all are from New Orleans, about 130 miles east of Lafayette. “We are delighted to receive guests and help them in this time of trouble,” he said. “If anybody shows up to the synagogue for services, we’ll be checking around with the guests this evening, and those who need places to stay will get them.” Many of the congregation’s families will be hosting hurricane evacuees in their homes. “It should make it a special holiday,” Masur said. “We hope we’ll be able to give these people some comfort.”
Uriel Heilman is JTA's former managing editor. He is now director of business development at 70 Faces Media. Follow him on Twitter at @urielheilman.