Jewish Residents of Southwest Florida Plan To Observe Yom Kippur Amid Hurricane Destruction

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

Rabbi Chabad SW Florida
Photo: Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Lauderdale

Tuesday night as the sun sets, the Jewish people begin their observance of the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. It is the Day of Atonement, where the Jewish people fast for a little over 24 hours as they repent for wrongdoings of the last year and ask for forgiveness. It's a solemn day, usually spent in synagogue as a community. Only the Jewish community of southwest Florida is faced with a huge obstacle this year. Hurricane Ian destroyed much of Fort Myers beach and many of the surrounding areas. Thousands are still without power or running water and rescue efforts are still underway.

Despite the destruction all around him, Rabbi Yitzchok Minkowicz of the Chabad Lubavitch of Southwest Florida, is determined to conduct services as normally as possible. The Chabad synagogue in Fort Myers consists of several buildings, and a few of them flooded. But one of their buildings is at a higher elevation than the others and according to the AP, that building was not damaged. That lone building helped shelter many during the flooding that Ian caused. Power was restored there Sunday night and now the Chabad's campus is serving as a hub for the community. There is a Kosher food pantry, food trucks, and a large tent set up for anyone who needs to come sit and have a meal.

Sunday night, Rabbi Minkowicz spoke to the online publication EJP and said, "We're going to have full services on Yom Kippur, with a big minyan and a big hazzan [Hebrew word for cantor, the officiant who leads much of the service] We're going to be fasting very, very heavily, praying, we'll be saying a lot of Tehillim [Psalms], and we're going to be thankful to Hashem [God] that we're alive."

At Temple Beth El of Fort Myers, they are opting to not have in person services for Kol Nidre on Tuesday evening, but will host a virtual service over Zoom for those who have internet access. They will host an abbreviated service on Wednesday. Details were explained in a statement from the congregation's rabbi, Rabbi Nicole Luna, on their website:

"For those in the area, we will gather at Temple Beth El for a Yom Kippur service at 4:00pm on Wednesday. This modified Yom Kippur service will focus on healing and include traditional liturgy, Yizkor, and the final shofar blast. Following services, we are partnering with the Jewish Federation to offer a take-home Break the Fast meal to all. We hope by Wednesday afternoon more traffic lights will be restored but please only come if you can safely navigate the roads. If we have Internet in the building by Wednesday, we will Zoom as well."

Rabbi Luna concluded her message with, "We will repair and rebuild, but to do so we must find strength from each other and from the wisdom of our Jewish faith. The final page of this year's TBE High Holy Day newsletter is a traditional Jewish blessing from my family saying 'Chazak chazak v'nitchazek- May we go forward in strength.' We are finding new strength as we help ourselves, our neighbors and our community through this difficult time. TBE is partnering with the Jewish Federation to help those in need, and please be in touch if you need any assistance. Together, may we be stronger and may we go forward in strength."

The Jewish Federation of Charlotte and Lee Counties is providing immediate support to the community and while they too have lost power, they are hard at work serving those in need.

For more information on how to help all of those impacted by Hurricane Ian, please find a list of resources here.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those impacted by this storm and we wish those observing the holiday a meaningful fast.

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