Thursday, September 15, 2005

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A Sad Sight - Recuing Flooded Torahs from New Orleans

Zaka, the Israeli recue organization that responds to bomb attacks and other disasters, entered New Orleans to save the holy Sefer Torah scrolls that were left in a synogogue there.

Unfortunately, the Torah's were severely damaged by the flood...

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All photos - click here.


Mr. Isaac Leider, of the New York ZAKA Rescue & Recovery Organization, waded through waist-deep toxic floodwaters with six Torah scrolls from Congregation Beth Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in New Orleans. A few of the Torah scrolls are believed to be more than 250 years old.

"Out of six, only two are possibly restorable," Leider said, as he sat in an inflatable rescue boat with the Torah scrolls he recovered. "I'm glad that we did this, but I'm terribly saddened. It's hard to see them in this condition." The scrolls are blackened from the toxic water and severely damaged.

Mr. Leider, who spent five years with ZAKA's search-and-rescue squad in Israel, arrived in New Orleans last week to ensure that the bodies of Jews killed by Hurricane Katrina are treated in accordance with Jewish religious law.


(Photos and info from Zaka USA, www.zakausa.org [though the site was not working when I posted this article.])

Update: Why weren't the Torah's taken out? A response from a Chabad rabbi from New Orlean's (though that was a different synogogue than the one above)...

I, for one, drove out of New Orleans with a mini-van loaded with six members of my family and two guests who needed a ride out. The trunk was packed with clothing, diapers and food that we would need for the next few days.

Five Torahs take up a lot of space in a cramped car. We placed the Torahs on the second floor of our Chabad House (synogogue / Jewish community center) and covered them. Covered Torahs are not in danger from slivers of glass blown by 140 MPH winds, nor are they in danger of dying of thirst or of disease if they are caught in a flooded city after the storm. Being on the second floor, they were in little danger of flooding, and being in an interior room, they were in little danger of being damaged by water coming through broken windows.

After the storm and rescue efforts wound down, we asked our rescue team to remove the Torahs, so that we could be sure that they would remain in a climate controlled area to avoid long-term damage, and so that they could be used for services for our community in exile.

I think that the same logic applied to the Beth Israel Torahs (those in the picture above). However, the Shul (the Beth Israel synogogue) had the terrible flooding, which caused very high water levels and caused the damage.


(Source link.)

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