Temple of the Islands
A Message from the President
September 28th marks the date that Hurricane Ian landed in Southwest Florida, creating massive destruction and enormous losses
for so many members and friends.
For many, the losses were not only homes, cars, gardens and boats, but the precious memories in pictures and letters tracing back many generations.
Once I was finally able to return to Sanibel and survey the damage at the UCC church, I realized it was critical to move the books and religious articles to a safe location.
Of course, you are already aware of the great mitzvah performed by Melissa & Scot Congress, Howard Lorsch and Tracy Dwyer in rescuing our Torahs, which received national attention in the TV piece by Lester Holt.
At this critical time, we received a call from Andrew Kavesh, a New Yorker who volunteered his services. He traveled from New York City and spent five days assisting us, as well as taking some 1500 pictures on Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers Beach, Matlacha and Pine Island.
Our Bat Yam emergency crew consisted of Andrew Kavesh, Janice and Ron Chaddock, Edina and me. We were also assisted by Wendy Harriman of Sanibel BIG ARTS. I purchased containers to safely hold our prayer books, and we began our work. We had to get rid of our refrigerator, several storage cabinets and one rolling book cart.
We also had to dispose of many items, such as computers, microphones, speakers and wiring that were impacted by the water which entered the Fellowship Hall area.
Ultimately, we filled almost 60 boxes, walked down a flight of steps (no electricity or AC), packed 3 cars and transported our precious items to a storage unit 20 miles away.
Fortunately, our Ark had only minor water damage. (Our second Ark, a portable structure used when services were held in the main sanctuary, had some minor, but reparable damage).
The response to all of the above from Temple Sholom in Naples and Beth El in Fort Myers was immediate and heart-warming.Each of these congregations housed one of our Torahs. Temple Sholom offered to send volunteers to assist us in any way needed and we have an open invitation to join them for a Shabbat luncheon.
I shared these invitations with Rabbi Fuchs and our Board. After much discussion, we decided that, at this critical juncture our first priority was to find an alternate location to have services and focus on the rebuilding of Bat Yam. We needed to find “ruach" - our unique spirit that has been an important part of our history since Bat Yam was founded in 1991, over 30 years ago.
The Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties came to our aid. They gave us space to hold services, supplies and even offered to cover the cost of our Oneg Shabbat treats for several months. We were joined at our first service by Federation Board President, Marsha Kistler and Executive Director Debbie Sanford. Also, they informed us that the Federation through its special fund will be awarding us a grant of $30,000 to assist in our rebuilding needs.
Our first post-Ian, in-person service took place on November 18th with close to 40 people in attendance and 19 additional participants on Zoom. It was also the first service where members could meet our new Cantor (Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer) and his wife Yaffah. There was almost a palpable, electric feeling of being together, and many stayed long after services ended to chat and renew friendships.
There are some individuals who deserve special thanks. I call them our Tech team who, for over 2 years provided the vital link to members unable to attend services in person. Special kudos to Dave Waks, Sandy Teger, Michael Samet, Elissa Karasin-Samet, Janice Block Chaddock and Ron Chaddock.
As we move forward I believe we have become stronger after facing numerous challenges that have strengthened our commitment and support for Bat Yam. Our strength comes from you, our members.
Thank you, and God bless you.