Jewish centers and synagogues were evacuated by the earthquake that was felt up and down the East Coast.
Staffers at synagogues in Washington D.C. and Richmond, Va., the city closest to the epicenter, tried to calm one another’s jangled nerves as they checked their buildings for structural damage.
“It felt like a herd of elephants was running back and forth while someone was jackhammering the building,” said Shoshana Danon, an administrator at Kesher Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue 14 blocks from the White House. “I’m going around to make sure the Sefer Torahs didn’t get damaged.”
At Adas Israel, the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, Executive Director Glenn Easton ordered the building evacuated after the quake ended. A lunch for seniors was stopped midway, and 100 people filed out of the building.
No one had yet arrived for a bris scheduled for later in the afternoon. “Fortunately, the bris hadn’t started yet,” said Easton. “That would not have been a good combination. We hope there aren’t any aftershocks,” he added.
He said that the bris would go ahead as planned. “A bris has to happen on the eighth day no matter what.”
At the Jewish Community Center in Richmond, some 700 visitors and staff members were jolted from their activity at the moment — swimming, preschool class, aerobic instruction. They were ordered to move into central areas of the two-story building, away from glass.
When the shaking stopped, everyone went back to their activities. There were no injuries.
“If you hadn’t been here for the two minutes that the building was shaking, you wouldn’t have noticed that anything had happened other than the fact that everyone is talking about it,” said Jordan Shenker, the JCC’s CEO.
The estimated 5.9 magnitude temblor struck around 2 p.m. It was felt from North Carolina to Maine, including in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where President Obama is vacationing.
In Lower Manhattan, thousands of office workers poured into the streets after feeling their skyscrapers shake. Cell phone service was disrupted as jittery workers tried to phone relatives.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood alongside other City Hall staffers after they evacuated the building.
“I did feel a little bit of shake,” Bloomberg told the Times. “And then it got greater.”
CNN reported that part of the central tower of the National Cathedral, the highest point in Washington, D.C., was damaged, according to spokesman Richard Weinberg. “It looks like three of the pinnacles have broken off the central tower,” Weinberg told CNN.
Pipes burst at the Pentagon, forcing it to be evacuated, the network said.
In Virginia towns close to the epicenter, the quake broke windows and knocked plates off shelves, the New York Times reported.
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This story "In Richmond and D.C., Synagogues Emptied After Temblor Struck" was written by Naomi Zeveloff.
Naomi Zeveloff is the former Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.