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

Rabbi Yakar also fled South Lake Tahoe when it became too dangerous to breathe.

On Aug. 29, Yakar watched from his Airbnb in Santa Rosa as a monstrous glow of fire rose over Echo Summit, threatening the small, wooded towns of Christmas Valley and Meyers, and just below them, Temple Bat Yam. The converted-parish backed into U.S. Forest Service land.

The rabbi worried about his close friends fighting the fire and for his neighbors trapped without cars; for the people who probably couldn't afford a hotel room even if they escaped. For a temple member in Christmas Valley with severe hearing loss and another evacuated while hospitalized with COVID-19.

He also worried for the temple's two Torah scrolls — one handwritten for the Temple Bat Yam congregation, the other a Holocaust scroll, which survived the Nazis' public bonfires of holy Jewish books.

Yakar asked congregants Charna and Allen Silver to drive into the smoldering landscape and evacuate the Torahs from Temple Bat Yam. They did.

Former Temple Bat Yam President John Kuzmik drove through the smoke to the Silvers' home and evacuated the holy scrolls a second time.


With the fires still raging around South Lake Tahoe and the fate of his own home still in jeopardy, Kuzmik didn't know if he and his wife would be evacuated next. "One thing we knew for sure," he said, "is that the Torahs would go with us wherever we went."

As the fire loomed over Temple Bat Yam, the congregants' across-the-lake neighbors at the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation and Temple Or Rishon in the eastern Sacramento valley got busy.

On Aug. 27, Mary Frank, the education and communications director who earned the nickname "the magician" for her logistical prowess during the catastrophe, sent a survey to every member of the Temple Or Rishon congregation, the largest of the three. She asked who had space in their homes for evacuees or resources they could spare.

Dozens did, including Tim Herman, a dentist in Roseville, and his wife, Pam, who offered to put up a Temple Bat Yam family in their second home, in Truckee, 40 miles north of the flames.


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