Sukkot Message/Relief Update from Rabbi Steven Wernick


The holiday of Sukkot has always been among my favorites.  The meaning of the Sukkah is profound; its flimsy structure and open roof remind us of the temporal nature of our lives.  In dwelling seven days in the Sukkah we know that absolute control is a façade and that we are each subject to the forces of nature and the uncertainly of the societies we build.

Who among us has not contemplated the themes of the fall holy days in light of recent events?  Hurricanes, floods and violence call out to us not just from the pages of the makhzor, but from the devastation and victims of real time events.  We each feel the urge to respond; to do something, anything to be helpful; to regain a modicum of the control over our lives these events remind us we never really had.

USCJ has been in regular communication with all kehillot in our network in Houston, Puerto Rico, Florida, Las Vegas and Santa Rosa.  Let us share with you what we know and what is currently being asked of us to support the efforts of relief and recovery.


Of our kehillot in Houston, Beth Yeshurun, the largest Conservative synagogue in the US, suffered the most damage.  They estimate 400 families, including their clergy, have been severely impacted.  The synagogue building suffered an estimated $3 million of damage.  After factoring in insurance, current fundraising and support from JFNA, government agencies, the State of Israel, and contributions the world over, current estimates of need are approximately $1 million for structural repair, new furnishings and religious items and supplies.

They also need Siddur Lev Shalem and the Etz Hayim Torah Commentaries.  If you have extra copies and would like to send them, please contact your Kehilla Relationship Manager and USCJ will help you send them to Houston.  Or if you’d like to contribute toward the purchase of these texts make a gift to USCJ’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Fortunately, one of our kehillot in Los Angeles, Temple Beth Am, was renovating their sanctuary, so USCJ contributed $5,000 from our Disaster Relief Fund and joined with the LA Federation and a small group of donors to move and install 300 pews from Beth Am to Beth Yeshurun.

In addition, USCJ is making up to $10,000 available to bring Houston teens to USY International Convention (IC) in December for some respite, not to mention a transformative Jewish experience.  These same funds will be available to subsidize other regional and summer programs for those who need them.

Puerto Rico

Our kehilla there is Shaare Zedeck JCC.  The human toll has been devastating as much of the Island is still without electricity and schools are still closed.  It will take years, and billions of dollars, to recover.  JFNA has been terrific bringing 100 generators to the Island, 35 for our community.

Shaare Zedeck’s building was damaged, but not severely so.  It is now functioning as a temporary shelter and sharing space with a Reform congregation.  They are estimating structural damage of approximately $100,000 but what’s yet unknown is the damage to their cemetery.  These repairs will likely be the focus of USCJ’s efforts as more information becomes available.

What this kehilla needs most is money to help with repairs and to assure that relief agencies are able to provide food, water, medicine and shelter.  Please give generously to JFNA and other recognized relief agencies.

We continue to communicate with the leadership and will be bringing them to our convention this December 1-5 in Atlanta.  We may also bring a delegation of teens to USY IC and send a delegation of USYers to them for their February Shabbaton if it remains scheduled as planned.

Florida and Las Vegas

While our communities have been traumatized by recent events, they have thankfully not suffered direct harm.  We will continue to provide spiritual and communal support and ask you to do the same.

Santa Rosa

While our congregation in Santa Rosa, Congregation Beth Ami, was spared any damage, four member families lost their homes in the fires. Beth Ami cancelled its Sukkot celebration and instead will hold a healing service in the synagogue.

Other Recent USCJ DisasterRelief Allocations

Prior to these recent disasters, our network of kehillot contributed $1,800 to Ramah in the Rockies following a fire that destroyed their main building.

And we allocated $18,000 to the Masorti Abayudaya Community in Uganda to feed 2,000 people suffering from one of the worse famines experienced in years.  (There is a student from the community now studying at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, who was recently featured in stories in the New York Times and NPR.)

There is a midrash (legend) that assigns to each of the four species of the Lulav and Etrog a different type of Jew – one with Torah knowledge and one without; one with mitzvah and one without; one with neither Torah nor mitzvah and one with both. Yet we grasp them together.  All of us, in our diversity and uniqueness, are needed to enhance celebrations and to support our community when impacted by trauma.  That’s the power of being part of a network of communities that are inspired by a shared vision of connection, meaning and shleymut (wholeness) in a complex and evolving world.  That’s the strength of USCJ.

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