As the 25-hour Yom Kippur fast approaches, Wilmington’s Jews are unsure whether they will have sufficient kosher food before the fast begins. Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis and volunteers throughout North Carolina are exploring every possible avenue to assist them, including arranging an immediate airlift of kosher supplies into the city.

The torrential downpours and storm surges generated by Hurricane Florence have cut off all roads to Wilmington. The airport is closed, and so is the port, rendering the city virtually inaccessible.

Many of the city’s 3,000 Jews weathered the storm at home, including Rabbi Moshe and Chana Lieblich, co-directors of Chabad of Wilmington, N.C. Widespread flooding and power outages have brought the city to a standstill. When limited cell-phone service was restored on Monday, the rabbi was able to convey the urgency of the community’s needs and the surreal devastation left in the storm’s wake.

Rabbi Bentzion Groner of the Lubavitch Education Center in Charlotte, N.C., is spearheading efforts to reach the beleaguered community before Yom Kippur. “We have a truckload of kosher food for the community,” he said, “but no way to get it to them.”

Groner says Chabad is exploring multiple options to get the critically needed supplies to Wilmington before Yom Kippur begins on Tuesday night. “We’ve reached out to military bases to see if we can bring food in via helicopter,” he said. “We’re told that the Red Cross has runway access in Wilmington, so we’re also exploring the option of sending supplies with their planes.”

Water levels continue to rise, with rivers expected to crest Wednesday or Thursday. On Monday, Lieblich waited in line at one of the few supermarkets open in the city to stock up on what provisions were available. “It will be days or weeks before trucks can resupply the city,” he said. “And the shortages will continue to get worse.”

The Lieblich home, some 32 feet above sea level, was relatively undamaged, and the Chabad House has enough provisions stocked for their immediate needs. But the worsening shortages mean that the community as a whole continues to hope that relief will not be long in coming.

Rabbi Moshe and Chana Lieblich, co-directors of Chabad of Wilmington, N.C., and their children (File photo)
Rabbi Moshe and Chana Lieblich, co-directors of Chabad of Wilmington, N.C., and their children (File photo)

Rabbi Lieblich says he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support in the wake of the storm: “So many individuals and organizations reached out, asking how they could be involved, how they could help.”

Wilmington Chabad will hold Yom Kippur services, no matter the circumstances. “While the majority of Wilmington’s Jews evacuated,” says Lieblich, “enough stayed that we determined we had to stay as well. We will host services no matter the circumstances—on the grass outside, if need be. We will give people the opportunity to share, to inspire and be inspired, and to begin looking forward, to rebuild and renew.”

“If there’s any one time that we have to be here for Wilmington’s Jews,” he said, “this is that time.”