Offers of assistance have been pouring into Alabama from Jewish communities across the country ever since the rash of tornadoes that went through the state Wednesday.
The outbreak has been described as historic. As of this morning there are 250 fatalities in Alabama, and hundreds are still unaccounted for. Some towns were completely leveled, such as Hackleburg and Phil Campbell, each of which had roughly 1000 residents before the storm.
In hard-hit Tuscaloosa, the new Bloom Hillel House, dedicated earlier this month, was untouched but without electricity for two days. Program Director Kathy Merrell said “the umbrellas stuck in the patio furniture are still as we left them,” difficult to fathom because “the devastation was so close to us.”
While the Jewish students at Alabama, numbering some 700, are all safe, some lost their apartments and have found new lodgings through the efforts of ZBT, or have simply gone home as final exams were cancelled and graduation moved to August.
Nettie and Gar Blume were in their Alberta City law office in Tuscaloosa when the tornado hit. They were pulled out of the rubble by five people, including someone he euphemistically told CNN was a local “self-employed pharmaceutical salesman” who will now get “free legal services for the rest of his life.”
He added that 15 bodies had been pulled from wreckage within a block of their building.
In Huntsville, both congregations were fine, and there are no reports of injuries or lost houses in the Jewish community.
Rabbi Beth Bahar of Huntsville’s Temple B’nai Sholom has been urging donations of food and gas gift cards. Larisa Thomason said one major issue is that with no electricity, most stores that are open are on a cash-only basis, which is an issue for many.
The Birmingham Jewish Federation made an emergency allocation of $25,000 for needs in the Jewish community, “which have been minimal,” and in the broader community. There is also a BJF tornado recovery fundraising drive, which will be distributed by the BJF and Collat Jewish Family Services in coordination with United Way of Central Alabama. The Jewish Federation of Central Alabama in Montgomery is also coordinating fundraising with the BJF. Donations can be made by clicking here, and donors should note “tornado relief” in the comments box.
The Jewish Federations of North America urges Federations across the country to direct donors to the BJF site.
Joyce Spielberger, director of community relations for the BJF, said among the inquiries she received were “a Florida woman whose knitting guild wants to send handmade items for victims; an Atlanta Jewish teen group that wants to volunteer in Tuscaloosa; and my favorite — the program director of Auburn University’s Jewish Student Life Organization, telling me the Auburn students are organizing a relief response for the students at University of Alabama.”
Marissa Grayson established a BJF team on the Hands On Birmingham website, which is coordinating volunteer efforts. Volunteers can search for “BJF Team” or her name, or for the Temple Emanu-El team. As volunteers needs are assessed, those who sign up will be contacted.
Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El had an already-scheduled garage sale to benefit the congregation’s pre-school this weekend; profits will instead be donated to tornado relief. Congregants are urged to buy items, then donate them back to tornado relief efforts for a doubled effect.
The Southside Faith Communities in Birmingham, which includes Temple Emanu-El and Temple Beth-El, will hold an interfaith worship service on Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. at Southside Baptist Church.
The Birmingham Holocaust commemoration, postponed from Wednesday night, will be held at 4 p.m. today at Temple Emanu-El, and prayers will be added for the victims of this week’s tornadoes.