Com­mu­nal Shab­bat Din­ners for Hun­dreds Re­cov­er­ing From Cal­i­for­nia Fires

Com­fort and com­pan­ion­ship in Sonoma and Napa, as res­i­dents brace for the long road ahead

The Jewish Voice - - SPECIAL FEATURES - By: Karen Schwartz

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.

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