Hamodia spoke with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Matusof, head shaliach of Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta, Canada, to learn more about the devastating fires there. He explained:
“There is no Chabad House in Fort McMurray, where the fires are. There may be 50 Jews in that city altogether, most of whom don’t know about the existence of the others. There is no Jewish establishment there, none whatsoever. The closest kehillah to there is about four hours away by car, in Edmonton.
“In Edmonton we have Chabad Sheluchim Rabbi and Mrs. Ari Drelich and Rabbi and Mrs. Mendy Blachman. They are busy with this because that’s where evacuations are coming to, the closest big city. I am dispatching and overseeing in Edmonton, but I am staying in Calgary, about a seven-hour drive from Fort McMurray.
“Fort McMurray is a community that is far away physically, but we are all affected by what happens there, or will be soon. Even before the fires went out of control, the economy in the whole of Alberta has been terrible lately. [The fire] is an added makah that is going to hurt the economy even more. There will be lost jobs, lost homes. Insurance will eventually kick in and pay something to those with the will and the strength to go back and rebuild, but until that city will be rebuilt it will take a long while. Meanwhile, people are displaced and homeless and jobless. We don’t even realize the ripple effect of it now.
“I think a lot of the fires are not in the city any more; a lot are expanding into unpopulated areas, where there is mainly land and landfills and farmland and forests. Unfortunately, that is also where the oil plants are. Hundreds of people go to work there. If those catch fire it’s dangerous and also will cause big financial damage. Some companies have already sent away all their workers, and they have gone to absorption centers in Edmonton or other places. There is no question this is major and will impact all of us one way or another.
“Rabbi Ari Drelich and Rabbi Mendy Blachman and their families are visiting absorption centers, helping people, finding them apartments and places to stay, bringing food, doing whatever they can.
“But for now, sometimes all we can do is hear them out, be there for them in this hard time. If they are Jews, we can learn with them … and teach them about emunah in Hashem, Who is always in charge and always has a plan for us. Basically, we tell them what we tell ourselves when we go through tzaros. We can share with them the promise of the Baal HaTanya, the Alter Rebbe, who said, ‘Noch a sreifah vert men reich,’ that after a fire one becomes rich [Igros Kodesh, Admur HaZakein, p. 189].”
Sometimes those riches can be of the spiritual sort.
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Blachman went to bring kosher food to two elderly sisters, evacuated from Fort McMurray and now in Edmonton, who didn’t think they were Jewish, but, they said, “Our maternal grandmother was Jewish.”
The Blachmans explained to the two sisters that they are indeed as Jewish as Moses, and they taught the ladies some parts of davening.
One of the sisters followed up with a text message to Rabbi Blachman that read in part: Thank you Rabbi. We ate the delicious lasagna and salad so loving of your wife to make for us. This text is to thank you for the nice gestures. I do the prayer you have [given] to us every day. It feels good; I will like to learn to pronounce it in your language.”
If you live in Alberta and need help, or if you can host people who are temporarily homeless, call Rabbi Matusof at 403-714-9009 or email email@example.com. Places to stay, cribs, strollers, and so on are needed, in particular for families with babies. Donations may be made at chabadalberta.org.