December 18, 2014 · 26 Kislev

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Disaster Response

Temple Emanu-El

1580 Spalding Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia 30350-4217
Temple Emanu-El's website
e-mail Temple Emanu-El

In the very early morning hours of April 9, 1998, a devastating tornado cut a swath of destruction through the northern suburbs of Atlanta. Dunwoody, the area of the city where Temple Emanu-El is located, was especially hard-hit. While the synagogue itself was spared, the houses and lives of many congregants were - in some cases literally - turned upside down. Some 70 of the congregation's families experienced serious loss to their homes and possessions; many others were hurt to a lesser degree.

The congregation had never before been called on to respond to such a disaster. The professional staff and the congregation, led by its Social Action Committee, immediately mobilized to formulate a plan to help meet the broad array of immediate, intermediate, and long range physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those caught in the tornado's path.

The immediate concerns were about food and shelter. With Passover beginning the following evening, a major effort was launched to provide the affected families with a seder and with food for the holidays. Word was spread by phone tree and by flyer, and the response was overwhelming. An open Passover kitchen was established at the synagogue, where congregants were provided meals for seven days. Congregants gathered nightly for dinner together with volunteers and clergy. Information regarding insurance claims and other matters was shared, and the amount of food was sufficient to warrant delivery of leftovers to several Atlanta-area shelters.

During May, work teams of synagogue members and staff, armed with chainsaws, axes, wheelbarrows, and strong backs worked at clearing mountains of trees and debris from the yards of six member families. Where there was need for expert assistance in dealing with contractors and insurance companies, qualified members made themselves available. More generally, care was taken to stay in regular touch with the victim families, and to create opportunities for them to get together to share their concerns. The affected congregants were given a group aliyah during the High Holidays.

The Fain Award is presented to Temple Emanu-El in recognition of its translation of the word "community" into a living reality. Social action may or may not "begin at home," but surely it must encompass the home - as at Emanu-El, it so manifestly did.

Click here to return to the 1999 Fain Award winners

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