After evacuating, they rang in the Jewish New Year in the middle of a wildfire

Robin Estrin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

Then the Caldor fire threatened to breach Echo Summit and rush toward Temple Bat Yam, days before Rosh Hashanah, when Jews begin to ask God for two things.

Forgiveness. And life.

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

By Aug. 26, the Caldor fire, which began explosively in the densely forested area south of Pollock Pines, had burned 136,000 acres and turned the air noxious.

Taylor herded her blind, insulin-dependent dog into her red Subaru the following day. She packed her daughters' birth certificates, her marriage license, home insurance documents and family vaccination cards, and made her exodus.

As she drove the 500 miles toward her daughter's home in the San Fernando Valley, the approaching new year weighed heavily on her.


One of the Jewish peoples' holiest holidays, Rosh Hashanah marks a 10-day period of reflection and repentance leading into Yom Kippur, when, Jews believe, God inscribes names into — and seals — the book of life.

Winding down Highway 395, Taylor worried for her town and Temple Bat Yam, where she'd made a home for herself after moving from the Valley to South Lake Tahoe in 1991.

But she worried especially for her husband of 35 years, Chris, who stayed behind to care for his 91-year-old father.

"You think about what we say from year to year," Taylor said, tearing up on the first evening of Rosh Hashanah. "Who shall live and who shall die? Who shall be consumed in fire?"


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