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Hero California Rabbi Evacuates For Wildfire — But Only After Shabbat In Secret Prayer Bunker

Rabbi Barry Diamond wasn’t about to let California’s raging fires get in the way of welcoming Shabbat with his congregants.

Despite receiving an evacuation notice, Diamond and Cantor David Shukiar of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks continued with their planned virtual service, streamed on Facebook Live, according to a Facebook post.

“We hope that you’re all safe from the fires,” Shukiar said in the introductory video, “and ready to bring in a little bit of the joy of Shabbat with us.”

Diamond added: “It’s something that we care about, our being together, and even though it’s going to be virtual, it’s still a connection that can give us strength.”

Diamond and Shukiar evacuated the “secret prayer bunker” in West Hills after the Kaddish, ending the roughly 25-minute service. The video garnered about 180 heartfelt comments.

The staff and clergy at Temple Adat Elohim have been diligent about updating members as two of California’s worst fires in history threatened the area.

They shared that Diamond and President Sandy Greenstein rescued the synagogue’s four Torah scrolls, which they handed to nearby Temple Judea, in Tarzana, for safe keeping.

“My wife, Sandy, and I on behalf of the members of Temple Adat Elohim, are grateful to Rabbi Joshua Aaronson and Temple Judea for housing our Torah scrolls in the aftermath of these devastating fires. We look forward to the day when our scrolls will return home,” Diamond posted Sunday on Facebook.

Aaronson responded: “Thank you Barry for leading your congregation in a difficult time. Temple Judea stands ready to help Adat Elohim and all other impacted congregations.”

On Friday night, after updating congregants on the status of the Torahs, Adat Elohim posted to Facebook to share details of the virtual service and confirm that the building was still intact.

Before the service, the synagogue also asked for updates: how members were affected, where they were staying, if they needed anything and if they wanted to help others who were affected.

Alyssa Fisher is a news writer at the Forward. Email her at, or follow her on Twitter at @alyssalfisher




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