As Hurricane Irma makes its way toward South Florida this weekend, local and surrounding Jewish communities have begun preparations to accommodate and provide support for those evacuating the zone.
Rabbi Yankie Denburg in Coral Springs said several members of his community were hosting those fleeing the coastline.
As part of his efforts to assist congregants in need, Denburg was also creating a database of community members who live alone and may be without a support system when Irma makes landfall.
“In the event we are hit bad and electricity goes out, I am coordinating people who will call, or go over if need be, and offer emotional support and any assistance if needed,” Denburg said.
Because of their location several miles from the ocean, Coral Springs residents are largely hunkering down, he noted.
“The tremendous outpouring of caring and support that I have seen the last two days of people coming together, offering their homes, offering their time and offering their love, has just been unbelievable,” Denburg added.
A nine-hour drive north, in Atlanta, Georgia, two congregations, Young Israel of Toco Hills and Beth Jacob, have decided to pitch in with the efforts as well by hosting Florida families over the coming weekend.
Rabbi Adam Starr of congregation Young Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that some 150 Jewish families are expected in Atlanta over Shabbat. Members of his congregation, as well as the larger Jewish community in Atlanta, will be providing shelter for them. Meals for lunch and dinner will also be provided through Monday.
“We started getting requests from people who were looking to come once Irma started to become a reality. And we realized that probably a lot of people want to be in a neighborhood that observes Shabbos and keeps kosher,” he said. “So we opened it up, we have a form to sign up and we got the word out on social media. The requests were coming fast and furious.”
Starr said placing everyone requires a “tremendous effort” but that, as of now, all families coming will have a place to stay.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “People are just opening their doors and making it happen.”
“We want them to really feel at home more than anything, to feel the warmth of our hospitality, a sense of “all of Israel are responsible for one another,” Starr added.
Jewish organizations and community centers in South Florida – which serve a community of some half a million people – closed their facilities starting Thursday and instructed their members to stay informed through social media updates.
The Israeli Consulate in Miami – as well as the homes of its four diplomats and 27 staff members – lies in the state’s evacuation zone, leaving the Israeli government little choice but to order its closure. Tens of thousands of Israelis were estimated to be in the region ahead of Irma’s arrival.
That decision came following calls by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine for residents to evacuate.
The consulate will be closed until further notice.
“We advise all Israelis in South Florida to find their way to a safer place, to keep watching the news and listen to local authorities,” Guy Gilady, deputy consul- general in Florida, told The Jerusalem Post. “The situation is very serious, and we really urge that people not take chances. Any Israeli in distress and who needs assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us.”
The Foreign Ministry has set up a local hotline for Israelis in Miami and the region who need assistance: (305) 469-4466 or (786) 663-3780.