Communal Shabbat Dinners for Hundreds Recovering From California Fires
Comfort and companionship in Sonoma and Napa, as residents brace for the long road ahead
Californians are in the midst of assessing damages to homes, business and property as they return to neighborhoods ravaged by last week’s rampant wildfi es. Some of them—hundreds, in fact— were welcomed by Chabad of Sonoma County and the Napa Valley Chabad Jewish Center on Oct. 20 at two Shabbat dinners that focused on comfort and unity in the wake of such trauma. The meals and programs, which were being held free of charge, took place at the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa in Santa Rosa and the Embassy Suites in Napa, respectively.
Th ugh the wildfi es that raged for more than a week in Northern California’s wine country and environs have become more contained, they leave signific nt destruction in their wake. More than 40 people lost their lives, nearly 200,000 acres of land have been scorched, and thousands lost homes and property, including Napa Valley vineyards and wineries. Families and business owners have a long road ahead to rebuild, says Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum, co-director of the Napa Valley Chabad Jewish Center with his wife, Chanie, who have been in contact with community members throughout the ordeal.
The Shabbos meals were called the “Shabbat Dinner of Comfort and Unity,” Rabbi Tenenbaum says, and the number of attendees increased in the days prior to the dinners as evacuees continued to return to evaluate their situations. “Some people told me last week that they didn’t know yet if their house was destroyed or not,” he says. “They told me that they have to get back and see what’s going on.”
This is an important time for people to come together for something positive and beautiful, says Rabbi Mendel Wolvovksy, who co-directs Chabad of Sonoma County with his wife, Altie. Shabbat is ideal for that, says the rabbi, who said last week that he was expecting more than 200 people to attend their dinner on Friday.
“There’s no question that people are still very shaken up,” he says. “Everybody you speak to knows of a close friend or relative who lost their home. Th process will be long, but we hope to be able to offer the support needed going forward.”
‘We Can and Want to Help’ Participants gathered in the two different hotel spaces to share Shabbat dinner, with stores donating fl wers and paper goods for the events. Th y enjoyed gefi te fish, chicken, side dishes and challah, and had the chance to discuss their current situations. “We feel that what is needed right now is to bring together the largest group possible—that people know we are all going through this together, and can and want to help each other,” says Wolvovsky.
The rabbi spent time at local shelters during the height of the fi es, talking to residents and assisting where possible. Chabad also served hot meals during Sukkot and Simchat Torah for anyone who needed the food and company.
A fi e still burns in a nearby park, according to Wolvovsky, and the air remains hazy and ash-fille . “But every day gets a little better,” he says, “and we’re able to see more clear sky.”
Wolvovsky recounts a recent meeting with a man at an evacuation center that he had been worried about and unable to reach for a while. “He forgot that his local Chabad rabbi was thinking about him and nervous for his safety,” he now says with relief. “This morning we put on tefillin together, and it was very nice.”
“We feel that what is needed right now is to bring together the largest group possible—that people know we are all going through this together, and can and want to help each other,” says Wolvovsky.
Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum, co-director of the Napa Valley Chabad Jewish Center, is one of two Chabad centers in Northern California who held a Shabbat dinner for local residents, many now returning back after evacuating. Some need masks to protect themselves from falling ash, which remains in the air after a week of raging wildfires
A home leveled by deadly fires that blazed through Northern California, burning nearly 200,000 acres of land and destroying thousands of buildings. Two Shabbat dinners were held on Oct. 20 for those grappling with the aftermath, assessing damages to their property.
Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky, left, co-director of Chabad of Sonoma County, wraps tefillin with community member Joseph Wand. The rabbi worried about him after not being able to reach him last week during the worst of the fires.