Sunday, August 05, 2007

Flood Chaos Hits UK Jews

Jewish communities across the country were this week counting the cost of the worst floods to hit Britain for 60 years, as families were trapped in their homes, shul services were cancelled and funerals faced postponement.
Downpours in Gloucestershire forced Cheltenham Synagogue to shut its doors last weekend, while shuls in the Thames Valley and Oxford braced themselves for a deluge for fear they too may be struck amid reports that nearby riverbanks and drains may burst.
Michael Webber, Cheltenham Synagogue chairman, said: “We have been making sure everyone is ok. We couldn’t get into the synagogue on Friday and had to cancel our services for the first time as the car park was flooded up to the steps.”One Jewish home affected in Cheltenham belongs to sisters Judith and Eva Heymann. The front of their house was covered in 2ft of water on Friday and their electricity and water is due to be turned off to protect power stations and to stop sewage seeping into the supply.Eva told TJ: “The water went up above our feet, we are still mopping it up and the carpet stinks. The emergency services came round on Friday but there was nowhere for the water to go. We couldn’t even go to synagogue as we couldn’t get past the front doors“We have filled the bath and all our saucepans with water. I am not looking forward to our electricity and water being cut off.”Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire were the worst hit regions with around two months worth of rain falling last Friday, the heaviest downpours since 1947.Reverend Malcolm Weisman, the Chief Rabbi’s minister for small communities, yesterday waded through waterlogged roads to officiate at a funeral at Cheltenham Jewish Cemetery. He told TJ: “The waters are rising and there is a risk the nearby River Chelt will burst. I am tempted to commission someone to build a Noah’s Ark and get people in two-by-two so we can get a minyan to synagogue.”Torrential rain in Oxfordshire has placed the banks of the Thames and drains under increased pressure and forced hundreds to leave their homes for a makeshift evacuation centre inside the Kassam Stadium.Oxford Lubavitch has opened the David Slager Chabad Centre to Jewish and non-Jewish evacuees providing food and temporary accommodation. Rabbi Eli Brackman told TJ: “We have visited the stadium where people are being held to see if we can help out. We have put up a notice on our website and set up a 24 hour helpline.”Graham Jones, the manager of Oxford Synagogue, said: “There is a lot of uncertainty and apprehension. The biggest threat to the synagogue is the overwhelming blockage of sewers and storm drains.”Meanwhile Maidenhead Synagogue, whose congregants come from the flood-threatened Thames Valley areas of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Hampshire, took precautions to ensure the shul and community is protected.Maidenhead Rabbi Jonathan Romain said: “We had a much lower attendance at synagogue last weekend, certainly people found it difficult to get here. We are checking with all our members to ensure they are alright."We are bracing ourselves for any water coming from the Thames. All the prayer books have been moved onto the second floor and we are advising people to be alert and minimise damage by moving valuables.”

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