Although most Jewish Florida evacuees have left after taking refuge from Hurricane Irma in Atlanta, their appreciation for the people and congregations who helped them remains.
Of the 1,000-plus evacuees who found shelter in Toco Hills, one or two stayed for the High Holidays at Congregation Beth Jacob, Executive Director Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler said.
He said air mattresses donated by a company in Canada have been sent to Houston to help people flooded out by Hurricane Harvey.
“There’s been an overwhelming outpouring of appreciation from individuals who have returned home to Florida,” said Rabbi Tendler, who has received countless letters from evacuees. “People have written to us claiming they were unsure what awaited them after hitting the road and how much it meant to them that individuals were able to open their homes and their hearts through a difficult time.”
Beth Jacob worked with Young Israel of Toco Hills to handle the influx of evacuees into the Orthodox community, and Young Israel Rabbi Adam Starr said Monday, Sept. 18, that the rest of the guests who arrived ahead of Irma before Shabbat on Friday, Sept. 8, have returned to Florida.
Three evacuees staying with the two congregations gave birth, including two during the power outages across the community after Irma struck Monday, Sept. 11. A bris was held for the first baby Friday, Sept. 15, at Beth Jacob.
“It was a beautiful experience, and I am glad everyone is back home,” Rabbi Starr said. “We’ve received countless messages of appreciation from people who simply wanted to give thanks.”
Since Thursday, Sept. 14, all the evacuees handled by Congregation Beth Tefillah in Sandy Springs have gone back to Florida, Rabbi Isser New said.
He said his mother, Dassie, played a part in another simcha, giving a ride to someone traveling to Florida for a family wedding scheduled in advance.
“There were so many incredible friendships that were made, which to me is the real story behind the connections,” Rabbi New said. “Yes, the organizations and the shuls all pitched in and came together; however, the human-interest story lay within people who expressed their appreciation and how indebted they are towards families who helped take them in.”
Although the guests have made it home, they left a lasting impression with their host families, Rabbi New said.
“When you speak to members of the community, you hear so many stories of how much they cried when they witnessed the guests leaving. People were doing so much and felt blessed to do so,” he said.
One of Beth Tefillah’s main concerns was how long guests would stay with the families who volunteered to house them. “You’d be surprised at the amount of people who accepted people within their homes without any hesitation,” said Rabbi New, who matched 300 to 400 families within the community. “I didn’t have any answers or know how long they would be here, but not a single person stopped to ask any questions.”
The AJT covered the Irma evacuation story online at atlantajewishtimes.com, where you can find reports before and after Irma arrived, including the refuge offered by Congregation Beit Yitzhak in Norcross and the Shabbat stop in Toco Hills by Israeli rescue crews headed to Florida, as well as more photos.