Miami’s Jewish Community Bears Up Under Irma

The only minyan in town.

NEW YORK - As Hurricane Irma forcefully blew its way in and out of southern Florida, the Jewish community of Miami began to breathe a sigh of relief that the worst of the storm, that threatened massive destruction and sent many fleeing its path, had passed.

On Sunday afternoon, just after the most powerful phase of the storm had passed, most had not yet been able to assess property damage. While heavy rains and torrential winds left the vast majority of residents without power, caused flooding in some coastal areas, and knocked down many trees, those Hamodia were able to reach in Miami on the day of the storm, were relieved that they had been spared the dangers that they had feared for days.

“Right now, we are dealing with an inconvenience. We don’t have power and we’re trapped inside, we’re trying not to open our refrigerators, and the kids are going crazy, but we really feel that we dodged a bullet,” Devorah Wechsler, principal of the junior high school of Bais Yaakov of Miami, told Hamodia.

Winds gradually picked up over Shabbos, but shuls in the area maintained regular minyanim with many holding Minchah earlier in the day than usual, fearing that venturing outdoors would become increasingly dangerous. By Sunday, very few houses in the area still had electricity.

The Wechslers lost power on Motzoei Shabbos, just after Havdalah. However, Yeshivas Toras Chaim, reportedly, continued regular sedarim through Sunday. Mrs. Wechsler said that with no electricity and most of her school’s teachers out of town, she doubted that Bais Yaakov would resume before Wednesday.

Uri Wechsler, from Yeshiva Elementary school, chazering mishnayos.

Amid dire warnings and many areas under evacuation orders, much of the community left before Shabbos for Orlando, Atlanta or other locations.

Those who remained moved into secured locations. The Wechslers felt relatively safe in their home secured by hurricane windows, and were hosting a neighboring family for the duration of the storm.

Mrs. Weschler said that she was overwhelmed by how the crisis had brought the community together in the days leading up to Irma’s strike.

“There’s a lot of communication…and it has made for the most amazing support system for the people who stayed here,” she said.

A pair of brothers who work as contractors had made it a project to ensure that each member of the Jewish community had a “safe room,” a place in their home with no windows, or strong boards placed over them. Talmidim of Toras Chaim spent Friday afternoon helping to close off windows and making other preparations for the coming storm.

“Hashem must have so much nachas from the chessed that has been going on around this hurricane,” she said. “It was heading straight for us and it’s unimaginable what could have happened. The tefillos and chessed seems to have saved us from devastation.”

Malka Lanter was among those who remained in Miami Beach which experienced major flooding during the hurricane. She and many others in the area had moved into Tower 41, a large and secure apartment building with a generator, before Shabbos.

“Between two and four in the afternoon it looked like we were in the middle of a cloud. It got all foggy and windy and you could barely see anything,” she told Hamodia.

The Dehzer Beis Medrash’s sign in Miami Beach

Tower 41 has 450 apartments, many occupied by frum families, and contains a shul and a kosher restaurant. Many apartments that were vacated by those who fled to other locations were given away to those who remained behind. It was one of the very few locations in the city that had minyanim on Sunday. Hatzalah had set up a station in the lobby to tend to medical emergencies during the storm. Throughout Shabbos and Sunday, shiurim were held, as well as Tehillim groups.

Baruch Hashem, the worst is over, we were very scared, and it’s certainly still a bad situation, but we didn’t get the brunt of it,” she said. “It was nice to see so much chessed, people are sharing clothes and food, a lot of people are staying in apartments of people they don’t even know, she said.”