The island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands was among the worst hit by hurricane Irma. But even wind gusts of near 200 miles per hour and torrential rain could not prevent the local synagogue from holding Shabbat services.
And Irma failed to damage the synagogue’s treasured Torah scrolls.
The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, a Reform synagogue serving the island’s small Jewish population and a fair amount of destination bar mitzvahs and weddings, has been around since the 1790s and has never closed its doors to a weekend prayer service.
“I was very nervous. It looked like that chain might break,” said Rabbi Michael Feshbach, who moved from his Washington-area congregation to lead the island’s synagogue several months ago.
Irma had just hit, power was cut off and curfew was imposed. But Feshbach and his wife and daughter, who is also the cantor, came to the synagogue and starting calling congregants. Eight others showed up. One family watched on Facetime.
“The centuries-old tradition was intact,” Feshbach said.
And so were the torah scrolls. Wrapped in a double layer of plastic and placed back in the ark, which was repaired a couple of years ago to prevent leaks, the scrolls remained dry.
Now the synagogue is hoping for a generator and a steady supply of propane to get through the High Holidays.
Irma Fails To Scrap Service At St. Thomas Synagogue
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.