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Anxious Puerto Rico Jewish Community Hunkers Down for Hurricane Maria

Anxious Puerto Rico Jewish Community Hunkers Down for Hurricane Maria

Major damage feared on island that has been a primary conduit for Caribbean aid

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Puerto Rico prepares for a direct hit from Category 5 Hurricane Maria, projected to be the strongest storm to strike the island since 1932.
Puerto Rico prepares for a direct hit from Category 5 Hurricane Maria, projected to be the strongest storm to strike the island since 1932.

Until Monday, Puerto Rico was the primary conduit of aid for the Caribbean islands struck hard by Hurricane Irma. Now it is preparing to take its own direct hit from Hurricane Maria, projected to be the strongest storm to strike the island in nearly a century. Many have made last-minute arrangements to leave, but others are stuck there, searching for shelter.

“We knew another hurricane was coming last week, but its intensity jumped in the last day-and-a-half,” says Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Puerto Rico in San Juan with his wife, Rachel. “It was very unexpected.”

Zarchi had until now been welcoming people fleeing the stricken islands. Just before Shabbat, for example, he was contacted by a Jewish family that had fled Anguilla and was looking for help in San Juan. Chabad put them up in a hotel and helped them obtain necessities at a local Costco; on Saturday night, the family left for Florida.

Along with members of the local Jewish community, Chabad’s planned Rosh Hashanah activities will draw Jewish military personnel, FEMA staff and NGO aid workers—“people,” says Zarchi, “who are all here with the common goal of doing good and helping others.”

Zarchi, his wife and their youngest child will be joined by members of the Jewish community in staying at their brand-new Chabad center in San Juan, hunkering down as they welcome Rosh Hashanah. Plans for the holiday had included large prayer services and festive meals, but the food is suddenly being seen not as a nicety, but a necessity. After the storm passes, Zarchi said the Chabad center will remain accessible on Thursday morning so people can come for a holiday meal.

Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, center, and Jewish community members with bottled water on hand for the storm and its aftermath.
Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, center, and Jewish community members with bottled water on hand for the storm and its aftermath.

As for water, it’s virtually gone from stores. Zarchi has managed to secure a few pallets of bottled water, which he has been distributing to people in need. Through the generosity of community members, he has also obtained 1,000 kosher MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat), which he has stored in case they are needed in Maria’s aftermath.

Once the hurricane and holiday pass, Zarchi hopes to be able to survey the needs of the Jewish and general Puerto Rico communities, and tap into what—following Harvey and Irma—has become an extensive and highly effective Chabad emergency relief network, a corridor of aid stretching from Texas to Florida and down to the islands. .

For now, Zarchi says it is important to remain grounded, despite the uncertainty.

“The main thing is to to be calm and stay level-headed,” he says. “We don’t control the situation, but we can try to react in the best way possible.”

The rabbi and his wife, Rachel, and their youngest child, will be joined by members of the Jewish community, staying at the brand-new Chabad center in San Juan as they welcome Rosh Hashanah.
The rabbi and his wife, Rachel, and their youngest child, will be joined by members of the Jewish community, staying at the brand-new Chabad center in San Juan as they welcome Rosh Hashanah.
After the storm passed, some community members came for a Rosh Hashanah meal.
After the storm passed, some community members came for a Rosh Hashanah meal.


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Anonymous NY September 24, 2017

Any word on how Rabbi Zarchi and the Jewish community are faring? Reply

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