Photo taken on Aug. 29 along Highway 88. (Photo/Meg Peart)
Photo taken on Aug. 29 along Highway 88. (Photo/Meg Peart)

As Caldor Fire rages, Jewish orgs ramp up support

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As firefighters continue to battle the growing Caldor Fire encroaching on Lake Tahoe, Jewish organizations and synagogues across the region have set up philanthropic supports to help those affected.

The fire, which has burned over 200,000 acres and is 20 percent contained, continued as of Wednesday to threaten a number of communities in the South Lake Tahoe area, with strong winds making the situation more challenging. Firefighters were preparing to protect Heavenly Ski Resort, a couple of miles east of the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Rabbi Mordechai Richler of Chabad at Lake Tahoe started a relief fund to help support those impacted by the fire and had raised $2,000 as of Wednesday.

“Wherever we can be of assistance, we’re there on the ground helping people,” he said.

The Chabad rabbi is also sending Rosh Hashanah care packages to the area’s evacuees — he’s been gathering addresses where people have taken safe haven and can receive packages. Each care package includes a gift of $75.

“Hotels, vacation rentals, relatives,” said Richler, who expects to hold Rosh Hashanah services in Nevada because of the fires. “They’re being sent tomorrow.”

Uri Gorelik escaped from his home in the El Tahoe neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 22. A retired electrical contractor and a Chabad attendee for over a year, Gorelik suffers from asthma. He said the air in the location where he’s staying  — across the state line in Gardnerville, Nevada, at his son-in-law’s home — is of poor quality, with the AQI hovering at around 250.

“It felt like you were in one of those movies about the apocalypse,” said Gorelik about the darkened sky. “It’s just eerie.”

On Tuesday, Gorelik and his partner drove north to Reno to get a break from the smoke. He wonders whether he’ll have to leave Gardnerville, too, with the fire continuing to move eastward.

Meanwhile, Jewish organizations around Lake Tahoe and in the Bay Area are offering help to those who are evacuating the fires and who might need financial assistance.

Hebrew Free Loan of San Francisco, which offers interest-free loans for a variety of needs, is currently promoting its emergency relief efforts. The nonprofit is providing $3,000 in emergency aid to help cover immediate costs for those affected by the wildfires; individuals are also eligible for up to $20,000 for more general assistance, such as home repairs and other needs.

In addition, the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region is raising money for those in need. Executive Director Willie Recht said the federation has raised over $10,000 as of Sept. 2.

Turning from those fleeing the fires to those on the front lines, Rabbi Evon Yakar of Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe offered thanks to firefighters and to local leaders having to make difficult choices.

In an invocation he gave at Tuesday’s El Dorado Board of Supervisors meeting, Yakar said the Tahoe community was “grateful” for the leaders in the county making “impossible decisions for our sake.”

“As Moses sends the Israelites into the Promised Land, he tells the people: Chizku V’Imtzu – Be Strong and of Courage,” Yakar wrote in a Facebook post to the community. “Today we say, Chazak V’Ametz to all those fighting this fight.”

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.