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

As Frank connected Taylor with the Hermans, she learned that the evacuee's father-in-law required a special chair to sleep. She immediately called a Rent-A-Center in Reno and secured a black power recliner at a cost of $135 for four weeks.

A day and a half later, Chris Taylor drove his father from a hotel to the Hermans' home. Relief washed over him.

Monday evening, warm choral music welcomed the congregants as they trickled in for Rosh Hashanah services.

"L'shanah tovah tikatevu," the Temple Or Rishon cantor sang from a bright bimah. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Yakar began with a greeting familiar to those who had spent the last 18 months logging into religious services online.

"I think we're all too familiar with 'the Zoom,' but remember," he said, his eyes smiling. "Stay muted unless you have a reason to be unmuted — and you know who you are."

Hundreds of men, women and children huddled on couches and in kitchens in far-flung corners of California. Families who had been evacuated by the fire a week earlier sat beside those who offered them shelter.


Alexis Wagner, 62, known affectionately to the community as "Bubbe Alexis," for her proclivity for feeding others, logged in from her daughter's apartment in Napa. With her were the few things she grabbed from her Tahoe home before she fled the fire — including a pair of plain brass Shabbat candlesticks that had belonged to her grandmother.

Caroline Matera, 63, and Richard Matera, 54, sat in their home in South Lake Tahoe, having returned that morning, exhausted. When the blaze drew near, the couple first evacuated to Mammoth. But days later, eager to serve, they drove across the Nevada state line and spent the week volunteering with the Red Cross at a Reno evacuation center.

To close out the service, Temple Or Rishon's Rabbi Alan Rabishaw shared a final blessing. Hours before, mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted and South Lake Tahoe residents would begin their trip back home.

"Bruchim haba'im. Be welcome. Be secure."

"Know that your walls are there to keep you safe," Rabishaw said, "and if the walls can't keep you safe, you have community around you, on top of the hill and down the hill, who love you and embrace you, as we know you would do for us."

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