As flooding swept through Yellowstone National Park this week, Chabad centers were focal points for help to both local community members and travelers alike. Heavy rain and melting snow trapped hikers, who were rescued by extraordinary efforts by search-and-rescue teams. Homes were destroyed, and many people were left re-evaluating everything from their travel plans to their living situations.

Rabbi Chaim Bruk and his wife, Chavie, co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana, have offered a home away from home for anyone who needs it. They’re in touch with locals across the region, as well as with Jewish tourists who had planned to be in Yellowstone on vacation, and will be hosting a larger number of guests than usual this week for Shabbat meals.

“We’ve reached out to everyone whose contact information we have to make sure they’re OK,” says the rabbi. “To the best of our knowledge, from the responses we’ve received, they’ve been evacuated and returned home or been evacuated and not returned home. They’ve been dealt with beautifully by the rescue teams that came in by helicopter and other modes of transportation to help them out.”

The Bruks know people who are still waiting to be allowed back home to assess the damage, he says, and people whose livelihoods will be deeply disrupted by the changes to the tourist landscape. June, July and August are peak tourist months, and he expects that there will be a decline in visitors as their lodgings struggle to get up and running again.

“There are other rivers in Montana that are showing some signs that they may flood as well,” notes Bruk. “All the Chabad emissaries are in touch with each other. We’re just keeping an eye on our communities and making sure Jews know we’re there for them physically and spiritually.”

Rabbi Chaim and Chavie Bruk, and family
Rabbi Chaim and Chavie Bruk, and family

Going forward, the Bruks plan to coordinate visits—by them or by yeshivah students—to people living in affected areas when they open up again. “They’re going to need a lot of love because their homes are damaged or severely destroyed,” he says.

Two summers ago, the community dealt with devastating forest fires, he recalls, which burnt some community members’ homes to the ground. “But this has never happened before,” he says. “We will keep surviving—not just the Jewish community, but also the broader community. Anyone who needs our love and support, we are here for them.”

Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Wyoming with his wife, Raizy, says they’ve been getting calls from people that were in the park and people who had been scheduled to be in Yellowstone. Those who had to leave the northern part of the park are in many cases looking to head south to where their Chabad center is located, he says. “They don’t know where they’re going to go, where they’re going to spend Shabbos, where they’re going to get kosher food—they’re calling us to find out,” he says. “They’re looking for moral support, and they’re looking to switch their schedules and figure out where to be instead.”

Rabbi Zalman and Raizy Mendelsohn
Rabbi Zalman and Raizy Mendelsohn

The Chabad center is able to recommend lodging and help coordinate kosher food, he says. They usually have three or four families with them over Shabbat this time of year. This week, however, they’re expecting 10 to 15. “Anyone who’s in need of any type of kosher food or if someone’s stuck without an option, we’re happy to provide that for them,” he says. “We’re expecting an overflow of visitors who were meant to be elsewhere for Shabbos.”

Meanwhile, the community will wait and watch to see when the tourist industry can safely reopen and people can return to work, he says. “Everything’s closed down, without a timeline for when those things will be open again,” he says. “I’m hopeful that people will know when tragedy strikes and devastation occurs, Chabad is always on the ground in every place all around the entire world. Here near Yellowstone, Chabad in Jackson Hole recognizes our duty and opportunity to help every Jew.”

Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana has set up a fund to replenish mezuzzahs, tefillin and tallitot for anyone who lost theirs in the flood. To contribute to the fund, go to: www.JewishMontana.com/Donate.

The Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming will be providing financial and spiritual support to those affected by the flooding. To partner in these humanitarian and community efforts, visit www.jewishwyoming.com/donate