Jewish groups help bridge victims


WASHINGTON (JTA) – Minneapolis-area Jews are offering aid and solace to victims of the tragic collapse of the I-35W Bridge in that city – and giving thanks for the survival of a former yeshiva student.

In a statement posted on its Web site, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas declared: “The JCRC stands ready to assist the community in any way needed.” The site has been updated with information for those seeking ways to help the victims.

The bridge collapsed Aug. 1 during evening rush hour, leaving at least five dead and 79 injured. As of Sunday, eight people were still missing.

Among the survivors is 20-year-old Roman Koyrakh – a former student at Torah Academy, a yeshiva in suburban Minneapolis – whose car plunged into the Mississippi River.

“There was a loud bang, and my car buckled suddenly,” he told Vos Iz Neias, a religious news Web site. “Dust and smoke shot up all around and the next thing I knew I was falling, plunging headfirst.”

Fearing the end, he said the Shema prayer, but managed to free himself from his seat belt and open the car door. He made it to dry ground and was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries.

Koyrakh credited God for his survival, telling the news site: “Hashem saved me. There’s no other explanation” for such miracles.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis and the JCRC partnered to offer free crisis intervention counseling for victims, their families and responders, as well as survivors.

Those who want to help are encouraged to donate blood with the American Red Cross or with the Memorial Blood Centers. Monetary donations are being directed to the Twin Cities Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Ordinarily the JCRC would have partnered with Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster to aid victims at the site. However, direct response “was not possible here because of the danger,” said Steve Hunegs, the JCRC’s executive director. “We’ve been told [by law enforcement] to stand down.”

“As this develops, we’ll see more collaborations,” he added.

In the meantime, JCRC promoted an interfaith service hosted by Temple Israel, a Reform congregation, on Aug. 2. Participants included an imam and clergy from local churches. They used a small interfaith prayer book with passages from Christian and Jewish liturgy, as well as songs by the popular Jewish performer and songwriter Debbie Friedman.

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman described a coming-together of several downtown congregations located not far from the bridge.

“We are very connected, and we even took a trip to Israel together,” she said of Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Islamic houses of worship all within blocks of one another. “We have very strong ties.”

The 45-minute service was timed exactly 24 hours after the collapse, at 6:15 p.m. Particularly moving, Zimmerman said, was the Birkat Hagomel, the blessing for those who survive. She noted that a woman congregant who works at the temple’s summer camp was on the bridge.

“Physically she was fine, but she was shaken,” Zimmerman said.

“We have all been on that bridge hundreds of times, ” she said, noting that the bridge connected the downtown area to the University of Minnesota campus, where many local children studied or used the sports facilities. “The entire community is struck by the randomness.”

Temple Israel’s chapel was open Aug. 2 and 3 for personal prayer and meditation.

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