Naftali Abramson, an Israeli singer who had flown with his family to Charleston to lead High Holiday services, found himself leading an outdoor community concert Saturday night, Oct. 8, joined by an Israeli cantor, Rabbi Meir Dorfman, who was supposed to be in Savannah.
They and others who evacuated the coast to escape Hurricane Matthew found themselves singing and dancing 72 hours before Yom Kippur with members of Congregation Beth Jacob and Young Israel of Toco Hills at a unity kumzitz (outdoor gathering) in New Brittany. It was the highlight of a joint effort by the two Orthodox congregations to host Jews threatened by the hurricane.
At 11 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, after Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Eli Lob, a teacher and director of NCSY in Savannah, called Beth Jacob Rabbi Ilan Feldman to ask whether the Atlanta community could help with a pending evacuation.
“For sure,” Rabbi Feldman said.
“We had just hosted them in Charleston,” said Rabbi Davies, who had no idea his family would need a refuge for Shabbat so soon.
“For sure” was the response of over 90 families when Beth Jacob Executive Director Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, along with Yonasan Gavant, and Young Israel Rabbi Adam Starr asked for hosts.
Daniel and Rachel Wasserman hosted the Cohen family from Boca Raton, who came with a dog the Wassermans’ son fell in love with.
Daniel Wasserman, who grew up in New Orleans, wasn’t there when Hurricane Katrina struck, but his parents and sister had to evacuate to Florida. He wanted to host during Matthew not just because his family had a similar experience, but also, he said, because it’s the way of community members to open their homes here.
Some evacuees with connections in Atlanta arranged their own accommodations in Toco Hills, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. Traffic stopped others from reaching Atlanta.
But those who arrived before Shabbat were welcomed with open arms. And after Shabbat, the unity kumzitz was so powerful it threw Matthew back into the ocean.
The outdoor concert was the idea of Jay Cinnamon, whose house guest was Abramson, an accomplished singer/musician who has produced several albums. Cinnamon proposed that the concert take place in the cul-de-sac on Parliament Point where he lives.
“I thought he was crazy,” Rabbi Starr said, “but I went along with it.”
The rabbi was glad he did, especially when all of the cantors who had led Rosh Hashanah services on the coast sang together. “All those voices from all those cities came together.”
At the end of the kumzitz, which no one seemed to want to leave, Rabbi Starr shared a passage in Hebrew recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Translating in his own words, he said, “Allow us to make ourselves become one to serve You with a full heart, whether on LaVista Road or wherever we pray — in Savannah, Charleston, Jacksonville, Miami. We are all one family, the House of Israel.”
Speaking for the evacuees, Rabbi Davies said: “We were hoping for unity. It far exceeded our expectations.”