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Bat Yam Temple of the Islands

A Jewish congregation serving residents and guests

of Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers, and surrounding areas,

providing a place of worship in the Reform tradition and creating

a warm, caring, enriching, and welcoming Jewish community.

batyam winter services.jpg

Graphic by Beth Weiss

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Hurricane Ian, a once-in-a-100-year storm, surprised everyone in Southwest Florida. What seemed like the typical Emergency Plan precautions of storing Temple Bat Yam Torahs turned out to be a life-saving measure.


When Howard Lorsch dropped them off after the Rosh Hashanah luncheon, we assured him that Scot would put them in the vault that evening along with the inventory from our store. Scot placed them on top of the baker racks and felt as in years past that they would protect the scrolls from harms way. Instead, the wind and surge of Hurricane Ian -- none like we’ve seen in our lifetime -- almost floated Periwinkle Place away.


The day after the Hurricane, on Tuesday, September 29, Scot and Billy from Billy’s Bike Rental went back to Congress Jewelers to make sure the vault and the sacred scrolls were still in place . . . and they were.


On Sunday night, October 2, we heard from Janice Block Chaddock that there was interest from NBC Nightly News after they heard Bat Yam's Torahs were stranded on Sanibel Island and wondered if we could help rescue them. The answer was a quick YES!!

Monday morning a call came in from NBC reporter Jesse Kirsch, asking if we knew a way back onto the islands since the Causeway was impassible. The NBC crew could only travel via a Sheriff boat. We were able to coordinate the mission with the help of the County Commissioner Kevin Ruane, local law enforcement heads in Lee and Sanibel Island, and the escort of the Sanibel Police Department.

Upon arriving on the island the National NBC reporters were told they could not leave the boat ramp area since no other national news organizations had access. This left  the mission to Scot, our general manager Carlos Fernandez, and me.


Within 15 minutes we were at the back of Periwinkle Place taking the plywood off the back door to gain access. Upon walking in, the smell of standing water from receded flood waters was evident everywhere. The waterline was at 41”, high enough to seep inside the vault. We also realized there was a hole in the roof of the store. Everything was wet and damp, like the inside of a cave.


The plastic bags and placement of the scrolls turned out to be a blessing. While 1/3 of the vault was wet, the two Torahs survived unscathed.


To be part of this rescue and witness the devastation of our beloved islands gave us much to be thankful for in the way of Hope. Having the Torahs be part of the Yom Kippur Service, and mentioned at Temple Beth El in Ft. Myers and Temple Shalom in Naples, gives us much pride in helping our Bat Yam family regain and cherish our community for generations to come.

Warm Regards,


Melissa and Scot Congress



Just when we thought that getting Bat Yam's belongings off-island would require the help and expense of a professional moving company, we were blessed with an unsolicited email from a selfless gentleman in New York City named Andrew Barney Kavesh.


Andrew has specialized in helping Jewish communities in the U.S. South and the Caribbean after Hurricanes Katrina, Irma, Maria, Harvey, Dorian, Michael and Ida . . . and now he has helped us after Ian.


At his own expense, Andrew flew to Ft. Myers and rented an SUV to help us finish boxing up our books, files and assets, and after many hours lots of lifting and carting, helped us get them safely into a storage facility on the mainland. He also traveled Sanibel and Ft. Myers Beach, taking many many meaningful photographs. We are so grateful for Andrew and his mitzvot, and we hope he will join us again in person for a future Shabbat Service or event.

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