As four separate fires consumed hundreds of thousands of acres across Southern California, Chabad-Lubavitch personnel throughout S. Diego County opened up their homes and centers to evacuees and mounted relief efforts at key locations throughout the metropolis.

Perhaps more telling of their dedication to the humanity around them, those whose own homes and synagogues were in the fire's path obeyed evacuation orders, took what little belongings they could and assisted other rabbis and their families in caring for part of the more than 500,000 S. Diego residents left homeless.

Such was the case for Rabbi Levi and Devorah Raskin on Tuesday. Reached at Chabad of Downtown S. Diego, the rabbi, who co-directs the Chabad House of Rancho S. Fe, said that he and his family's first priority was that everyone around them was okay and taken care of.

"We were basically told to take anything important and leave immediately," said Raskin, a father of an 8-month-old daughter. "So we took the Torahs, the computers, and got out."

He urged those who wanted to help to log on to ChabadRSFFireRelief.com.

"If you're from out of town, you can help out by doing good deeds and to go to the Web site and donate," he said. "If you know of anybody in the area who needs a place to stay, you can also contact us through that site."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared that part of the state a disaster area, and city officials stressed that the fires remained far from contained and wildly unpredictable.

Rabbi Zalman Carlebach, co-director with wife Nechama Dina of the downtown institution, said that they converted the synagogue and community center into a relief center.

"We're one of the few places not under mandatory evacuation," he said. "We have people in the neighborhood who are putting up other Jews."

Rabbi Mendel and Nechama Dina Polichenco's experience, though, was a little bit different. After opening up their Chula Vista home to evacuees, they got the order to flee quickly approaching flames. So they and their guests headed south to a Chabad House they operate in Tijuana, Mexico.

All told, nine Chabad institutions in the S. Diego area were under evacuation orders on Tuesday.

Four separate fires have charred hundreds of thousands of acres in and around S. Diego. Many Chabad families are among the more than 500,000 evacuees.
Four separate fires have charred hundreds of thousands of acres in and around S. Diego. Many Chabad families are among the more than 500,000 evacuees.
From her home near the campuses of S. Diego State University and the University of California at S. Diego, Mairav Boudjnah, co-director of the city's Jewish Student Life Center, said that several students had joined community members and other Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in taking up residence with her family and her husband, or at the campus Chabad House.

"We're her for everybody, no matter what," she said, noting that the fires have gotten to within 20 miles of the home, forcing her three children to play indoors because of the ash and smoke. "We've asked local supermarkets to donate food, and we're preparing meals for people."

Her husband, Rabbi Chalom Mendel Boudjnah, spent most of Tuesday helping to cater to the estimated 12,000 evacuees that had made Qualcomm Stadium their temporary home. In an eerie echo of another disaster two years ago, when Hurricane Katrina sent New Orleans residents fleeing flood waters to seek shelter in its stadium, Boudjnah took 50 college students with him to make the rounds of the stadium and pass out bottled water.

"We're always trying to figure out what we can do to help," said the rabbi. "I have a database of 1,000 e-mails regarding people living in the area. So we're constantly checking up on them and working the phones."

He said that stadium officials were looking forward to a food truck dispatched by Chabad of the West Coast's Los Angeles headquarters and stocked with enough kosher food for about 2,000 people.

"Food is a big deal, because people are passing out snack bars and stuff," he explained. "With this sort-of mobile kitchen, we'll be distributing soup and other kosher items. It won't be fancy, but it'll help."

Always on the horizon, though, was the threat of further evacuations.

"It's pretty close," Mairav Boudjnah said of the fire. "The kids' school is one mile away from the fire line, and classes at S. Diego State have been cancelled. We're always listening to the radio and checking on the Internet to monitor what's going on."