Hurricane Irene strikes Vermont, spares Saul Bellow’s burial ground

Footpath to Shir Heharim congregation office (courtesy of BAJC congregation)

Repair the World has issued a call to action to help communities affected by Hurricane Irene.

Among the many volunteer and tzedaka opportunities, the Repair bulletin specifically mentions the Jewish community of Brattleboro, Vermont by name. JTA readers might be interested to know that Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow is buried in Brattleboro at the Jewish cemetery, Shir Heharim. 

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Cemetery caretakers Mel and Norma Shakun of nearby Williamsville, Vt. were profiled in today’s New York Times on account of their house sustaining severe damage:

The gas lamp and candles that Melvin and Norma Shakun had prepared for Hurricane Irene are still sitting on the kitchen table in their 200-year-old home here.

But much of the home is gone, torn away by the Rock River as it surged over the Shakuns’ quiet country road on Sunday, swallowing most everything in its angry path.

“It’s borderline whether we should just call the whole thing a total and move out,” said Mr. Shakun, 82, a former New Yorker who bought the house in 1968. “If we really wanted to stay here at all costs — and believe me, it would be costly — you could do that.”

That they are even thinking about salvaging what remains of their battered home is a testament to the draw of Williamsville, a mountain village that has a post office, a volunteer fire department, a general store and not much else.

Rabbi Tom Heyn, spiritual leader of Brattleboro Area Jewish Community Congregation Shir Heharim, sent another member in the Shakuns’ stead to survey the cemetery. Aside from some trees fallen on the road, no damage to the cemetery was reported.

Rabbi Heyn also noted that while the Brattleboro synagogue didn’t sustain any direct damage, a handful of members suffered significant losses to their businesses, homes and farmlands. "Thankfully, not many members of our congregation were directly affected – but that doesn’t lessen hardship of those who were," he said in a phone conversation.

As per the Repair bulletin, The American Red Cross, B’nai B’rith International, and the Union for Reform Judaism are accepting donations for hurricane relief. JTA readers interested in donating to the Brattleboro Jewish community can contribute online or via check to:

BAJC

Attn: Families in Need Fund

PO Box 2353

Brattleboro, VT 05303

For more on how Jewish communities and families have been impacted by Irene, read this post by my JTA colleague, Dan Klein.

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