As a result of more than 15 inches of rainfall over a matter of days in Boulder, Colorado and surrounding areas last month – killing seven people, causing damage to more than 15,000 others, and destroying nearly 2,000 homes – synagogues and its scheduled services took a major blow.
At least five synagogues suffered flood damage to basements and social halls. The Boulder Jewish Community Center’s parking lot flooded, and access to the building was cut off, according to the Boulder Jewish News. Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm of Chabad at CU said, “We’ve already cleaned up our mess; only a few inches in the shul, but it’s pretty intense.” So on Yom Kippur eve, students asked Rabbi Wilhelm where they could attend services in Boulder. Fortunately, over 100 worshippers were able to attend Yom Kippur services in the lobby of the Chabad on Campus Center at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. This was possible because the synagogue building’s lobby is above the flood line. Others, though, were unable to leave their homes to attend services.
Rabbi Yaakov Borenstein, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Longmont, Colorado, was forced to evacuate his home just 24 hours before Yom Kippur and was fortunate to book the last available room at the hotel where he had previously rented a meeting room to host the center’s Yom Kippur services. Flooding virtually annihilated the Chabad Jewish Center in Longmont, located about 15 miles northeast of Boulder in Boulder County. “Our shul was completely ruined,” Rabbi Borenstein told the Intermountain Jewish News. “It looks like an island. We are right next to a creek here.” Rabbi Borenstein managed to save the Sefer Torah, siddurim and other religious items before he was ordered to evacuate the building.
Hours later, in the middle of the night, the rabbi, his wife and four children were forced to leave their home. “Our Hebrew school is gone,” he said. “The water is two feet deep. Humidity has warped all of our sacred books. The prospect of finding adequate supplies and dry locations to build a sukkah seemed daunting and shipments of the Arba Minim in the area were sporadic, as new distribution and sale locations had to be established.”
Rabbi Borenstein, who worried that he might not draw a minyan to Yom Kippur services in Longmont, reported that almost 100 people showed up. ”I tried to inspire every one of them. It was truly, truly a blessing to have such a crowd show up. I am truly humbled. Thank God, we have been allowed back into our home,” he said after Yom Kippur, as rain continued to fall in Longmont. “The Chabad Center has suffered substantial damage. A company has pumped out two feet of water and someone is coming to fix the drywall.”
Kehilath Aish Kodesh, an Orthodox synagogue, sent an e-mail to 500 residents announcing that heavy rains and flooding had destroyed the tent it had prepared for Yom Kippur services. The message also offered alternative locations for services, including hard-hit Chabad centers in Boulder and Longmont along with Denver synagogues out of harm’s way. Elon Bar-Evan, executive director of Aish Kodesh, said the tent and parking lot were under water, and that many machzorim intended for the services were ruined.
Rabbi Marc Soloway, spiritual leader of Conservative Bonai Shalom, said that his synagogue had sustained significant flooding. The entire basement, including the social hall, was submerged. Yom Kippur services were scheduled elsewhere.