ATLANTA – Synagogues throughout the South are opening their doors to Jewish families fleeing from Hurricane Ivan (search), inviting evacuees from Louisiana and Florida to attend worship services for Rosh Hashana while waiting for the storm to pass.
An Internet message board for the Union for Reform Judaism (search) has been abuzz with messages about synagogues offering seats at services for the holiday, a sacred Jewish celebration that marks the beginning of the High Holy Days, which started at sundown Wednesday.
"One of the basic tenets of Reform Judaism is that we're responsible for each other — not responsible just for other Jews but for all of humanity," said Emily Grotta, the group's spokeswoman.
Some synagogues even waived traditional ticket fees for evacuees.
"Those that show up on an emergency basis, we're letting them in and we're opening our doors. It's just that simple," said Karen Tashman, executive director of the Shearith Israel synagogue in Atlanta.
Temple Shalom in Lafayette, La., about 100 miles northwest of New Orleans, was inundated with inquiries from evacuees wanting to attend services there. Sam Masur, the temple's president, said he expected to add at least 30 people to his small 65-family congregation, and many also offered to host evacuees in their homes.
"It's a good deed, it's a mitzvah," Masur said. "We're excited about the opportunity to help these people and give them a little comfort."
Larry Voit, president of the Ahavas Chesed synagogue (search) in Mobile, Ala., said he expected many Jews throughout the Southeast to sit out Rosh Hashana, one of the two biggest Jewish holidays of the year. The other is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which follows 10 days later.
"There's great disappointment that the hurricane is going to keep people away from synagogue for a very important holiday," Voit said. "But at the same time, I don't think it's a question that self-preservation and survival is going to be more important."
A few synagogues in the path of the hurricane decided to go ahead with Rosh Hashana services in spite of the weather warnings.
"Our rabbi is very adamantly saying that we will have services as long as he can physically get there," said Terri Finkelstein, office manager at Temple Beth Or in Montgomery, Ala.
Finkelstein also put out notices inviting displaced congregations in nearby Mobile and Birmingham to the temple, although few people were expected to attend because of heavy traffic and poor weather.
Rabbi Israel Bana of the Temple B'nai Israel in Pensacola, Fla., also remained undeterred. Since most of his congregants already evacuated, he planned to set up a telephone conference call to allow them to listen in while services are conducted.
"Just because a little hurricane comes around here to cause a little headache, should I leave my house?" he said. "I believe a rabbi is like a captain of a ship. We don't leave. We stay put."