Rosh Hashanah Celebration After Caldor Fire Evacuation

This is how you sound the Jewish New Year in the midst of a forest fire.

The rabbi always wears white, a symbol of purity and new beginnings, but instead of reading Torah from the bimah, the synagogue stage, he stands in an Airbnb in Santa Rosa, Calif. – his wife and children. children in the other room.

Current the synagogue, the center of Jewish life, is empty, and the winding mountain roads that lead to its gates are closed, patrolled by police and firefighters and sometimes the National Guard.

The Torah scrolls are not in their usual house, called the ark, nor with the Rabbi of Santa Rosa. They have been evacuated from the temple and lie in the empty room upstairs of a Nevada devotee, covered in a traditional white and blue tallit, or prayer shawl.

On Monday, worshipers at three temples once near the Caldor Fire Trail connected to Rosh Hashanah services on Zoom.

“We welcome this New Year with a renewed sense of resilience because we know this is what is called us,” said Rabbi Evon Yakar, 42.

Taylor is a member of Bat Yam Temple in South Lake Tahoe.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Last month, the Caldor fire roared through Pollock Pines, displacing members of a congregation. Then, in the last days of the month – and the Hebrew calendar year – intense winds pushed the blaze toward the Lake Tahoe basin, threatening to raze the homes of another.

On August 30, thousands people were forced to evacuate South Lake Tahoe, including many of the 65 families that make up Bat Yam Temple.

The events of the following week tested the small, dispersed Jewish communities in the area, which began to coalesce when Yakar, previously the rabbi of the Bat Yam Temple in South Lake Tahoe, became the spiritual leader of North Tahoe. Hebrew Congregation.

When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted religious gatherings statewide and Tahoe congregations moved Shabbat services online, a third temple, Temple Or Rishon in the eastern Sacramento Valley, joined.

Then the Caldor fire threatened to cross the summit of the Echo and rush to the Bat Yam temple, a few days before Rosh Hashanah, when the Jews began to ask two things of God.

Forgiveness. And life.

Pamela Taylor, who has lived in South Lake Tahoe for three decades, was ready to evacuate in mid-August, when she noticed ash from another blaze, the Tamarack Fire, raining down from the sky on her lunch.

On August 26, the Caldor Fire, which exploded explosively in the densely forested area south of Pollock Pines, burned 136,000 acres and made the air noxious.

Taylor drove his insulin-dependent, blind dog in his red Subaru the next day. She packed her daughters’ birth certificates, marriage certificate, home insurance documents and family immunization cards, and made her exodus.

As she traveled the 500 miles to her daughter’s home in the San Fernando Valley, the approaching New Year weighed heavily on her.

One of the holiest holidays for the Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah marks a 10-day period of reflection and repentance leading up to Yom Kippur, when, according to the Jews, God inscribes names in – and seals – the Book of Life. .

Instead of the usual long braid, challah bread is round for Rosh Hashanah.

Instead of the usual long braid, the challah bread is round for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The round challah, like the ones Taylor served on September 6, represents the idea that the year is round. The word “rosh” means head and the word “shanah” means year.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Coming down Route 395, Taylor worried about her town and Bat Yam Temple, where she had settled after moving from the valley to South Lake Tahoe in 1991.

But she was most worried about her 35-year-old husband Chris, who stayed behind to care for his 91-year-old father.

“You think about what we say from year to year,” Taylor said, tearfully on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Who will live and who will die?” Who will be consumed by the fire?

Rabbi Yakar also fled South Lake Tahoe when it became too dangerous to breathe.

On August 29, Yakar watched from his Airbnb in Santa Rosa a monstrous glow of fire rise above Echo Summit, threatening the small wooded towns of Christmas Valley and Meyers, and just below, Bat Yam Temple. The converted parish backed by US Forest Service land.

The rabbi was worried about his close friends fighting the blaze and for his neighbors trapped without cars; for people who probably couldn’t afford a hotel room even if they escaped. For a member of the Christmas Valley Temple with severe hearing loss and another evacuated while hospitalized with COVID-19.

He was also concerned about the temple’s two Torah scrolls – one handwritten for the Bat Yam Temple congregation, the other a Holocaust scroll, which survived the public bonfires of the books. sacred Jews of the Nazis.

Yakar asked the faithful Charna and Allen Silver to drive through the steaming landscape and evacuate the Torahs from the Bat Yam temple. They did it.

Pamela Taylor, an evacuee from the Caldor fire in South Lake Tahoe, recites a blessing in Hebrew at the Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Pamela Taylor, an evacuee from the Caldor fire in South Lake Tahoe, covers her eyes to recite a blessing in Hebrew at her family’s Rosh Hashanah dinner on September 6 in Calabasas, California.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Former Bat Yam Temple President John Kuzmik walked through the smoke to the Silver’s home and evacuated the sacred scrolls a second time.

With fires still raging around South Lake Tahoe and the fate of his own home still in danger, Kuzmik was unsure if he and his wife would be evacuated next. “One thing we were sure of,” he said, “was that the Torah would accompany us wherever we went.

As the fire threatened Bat Yam Temple, neighbors across the lake from worshipers from the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation and Or Rishon Temple in the eastern valley of Sacramento got busy.

On August 27, Mary Frank, the director of education and communications who earned the nickname “magician” for her logistical prowess during the disaster, sent a survey to every member of the Temple Or Rishon congregation, the largest three. She asked who had space in their home for the evacuees or what resources they might have.

Dozens did, including Roseville dentist Tim Herman and his wife, Pam, who offered to host a Temple Bat Yam family at their second home in Truckee, 40 miles north of the flames.

As Frank put Taylor in touch with the Hermans, she learned that the evacuee’s stepfather needed a special chair to sleep on. She immediately called a Rent-A-Center in Reno and got a black power recliner for $ 135 for four weeks.

A day and a half later, Chris Taylor drove his father from a hotel to the Herman’s house. Relief swept over him.

On Monday evening, warm choral music greeted the faithful as they entered for Rosh Hashanah services.

“L’shanah tovah tikatevu,” sang the cantor of the Or Rishon Temple with a shining bimah. May you be inscribed and sealed for a happy new year.

Yakar began with a familiar greeting to those who had spent the past 18 months tapping into online church services.

“I think we all know too much about ‘Zoom’, but remember,” he said, his eyes smiling. “Stay muted unless you have a reason to – and you know who you are. “

Pamela Taylor plays with her 2-year-old grandnephew Ari Dadon as their family celebrates Rosh Hashanah.

Pamela Taylor plays with her 2-year-old grandnephew Ari Dadon as their family celebrates Rosh Hashanah.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds of men, women and children huddled on sofas and in kitchens in the far corners of California. Families who had been evacuated by the fire a week earlier sat next to those who offered them shelter.

Alexis Wagner, 62, affectionately known to the community as “Bubbe Alexis” for her propensity to feed others, connected from her daughter’s apartment in Napa. With her were the few items she had collected from her Tahoe home before fleeing the fire, including a pair of brass Shabbat candlesticks that had belonged to her grandmother.

Caroline Matera, 63, and Richard Matera, 54, were sitting in their South Lake Tahoe home, having returned that morning, exhausted. When the fire approached, the couple first evacuated to Mammoth. But a few days later, eager to serve, they crossed the Nevada state border and spent the week volunteering with the Red Cross at a Reno evacuation center.

To close the service, Rabbi Alan Rabishaw of Temple Or Rishon shared a final blessing. Hours earlier, mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted and residents of South Lake Tahoe would begin their journey home.

“Bruchim Haba’im. Welcome. Be safe.

“Know that your walls are there to protect you,” Rabishaw said, “and if the walls cannot protect you, you have a community around you, at the top and bottom of the hill, who love and embrace you. . , as we know you would for us.

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