Jewish Community Long-Term Response Taking Shape

Plans are moving forward on initiatives to help the long-term Alabama recovery from the April 27 tornadoes, with two Birmingham synagogues announcing major national initiatives.

Starting on May 16, Knesseth Israel Congregation will be partnering with two national agencies to become a center for Jewish volunteers from across the country. Rabbi Eytan Yammer said the state’s only Orthodox congregation will be a home base with facilities for sleeping, cooking, eating, laundry and Internet access. Minneapolis-based Nechama will be the agency finding work for volunteers, scheduling and training volunteers, while the Jewish Disaster Response Corps will facilitate activities in KI’s building, including cooking and kashrut supervision for the volunteers.

“We are so blessed to be working with such dedicated people from each of our partner organizations. I know that together we can make a difference!” Yammer said.

Amy Citryn with Nechama is already coordinating field volunteers to help clear and rebuild homes. She can be reached at or at (205) 259-6986. Elie Lowenfeld with JDRC will be coordinating “at home” volunteers including cooking and serving meals. His email is

According to Nechama, the two national organizations have committed to an initial four-month period, deploying up to three teams across the region. The agency is working to raise $100,000 to support the deployment, and envisions most volunteers arriving on Sunday and leaving on Friday afternoon.

Nechama is also working in Smithville, Miss., which was hit by an F5 tornado, and with Cumberland and Wren, Miss., and is working with the Vicksburg Campus Americorps NCCC team.


Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Jonathan Miller is working with Lauren Perlman of Collat Jewish Family Services in Birmingham on Teyn Yad (“Lend a Hand”), an initiative where fellow Reform congregations can send delegations of volunteers for up to a week, with local congregants providing home hospitality. A week ago, he issued a call to the Emanu-El membership to provide space in their homes for visiting volunteers. On May 11, he announced that enough homes have been solicited to make the project a go.

The congregation is currently working to hire a coordinator for Teyn Yad, and partner with local agencies that can define meaningful volunteer opportunities for visitors that would be working for five to seven days.

Emanu-El has raised approximately $6,000 for tornado relief, which will go to the Unmet Needs Fund at United Way, and the American Red Cross.