San Francisco Public Works employees have been distributing free sand bags to residents throughout the recent rains. (Photo/Twitter via S.F. Public Works)
San Francisco Public Works employees have been distributing free sand bags to residents throughout the recent rains. (Photo/Twitter via S.F. Public Works)

UPDATED: After heavy rains, Bay Area synagogues deal with storm fallout 

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Updated Jan. 11 with information on Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento.

As the Bay Area readies for more wet weather this month, local synagogues are reporting a number of effects from heavy rainfall that’s soaked — in some cases flooded — parts of the region and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

Heavy rain fell on the final day of 2022, making it the second wettest day on record in San Francisco history. Rainfall continued sporadically in the following days, and last Wednesday marked the arrival of a powerful storm system called a “bomb cyclone” event. On Monday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for California.

At Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in the city’s low-lying Mission District, water rushed into the boiler room last week, as a “heroic crew of volunteers” worked on a bucket brigade to remove the water, the synagogue reported in a Jan. 4 newsletter.

The building, in which the sanctuary is on the second floor, was left without heat and a working elevator, and administrators decided to move the Friday night Jan. 6 service to Zoom only.

Meanwhile in Aptos, near Santa Cruz, Rabbi Paula Marcus of Temple Beth El reported that while the synagogue building was in good shape, the storms did have an unfortunate effect: A graveside funeral had to be postponed because of travel risk and potentially unstable trees at the congregation’s memorial park near UC Santa Cruz. The mix of water-logged soil and heavy winds increased the risk of falling trees across the region.

“We don’t like to postpone funerals obviously because of Jewish tradition,” Marcus said. “The [congregants] had family flying in from out of town, and it was scary for them. We felt there was an issue.”

As of Monday, a few families in the town’s hilly areas had been evacuated from their homes because of the ongoing risk of floods and mudslides, Marcus said.

Storms across the Bay Area and Northern California, such as the atmospheric river that hit overnight Monday, are expected at least through Jan. 19, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the Sacramento Valley, parts of the capital city region were under a flood watch all week as rivers filled from steady rains. Congregation B’nai Israel is located less than a 1,000 feet from the Sacramento River.

“This last round was worse than the first one,” Rabbi Mona Alfi told J. “Lots of power outages; we had many families who were out of power for up to 3 days, and the city is still picking up downed trees.”

She said a tree had even fallen on a congregant’s house.

“As for the temple, we did have part of the roof over our stage blow off, and our congregants got it all tarped up until a roofer could come and fix it,” she said.

In Half Moon Bay, lower-income families and farm workers have been most acutely affected by the wet weather, said Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn of the Coastside Jewish Community.

The community “donated $500 to help many of them through ALAS,” or Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, a nonprofit serving the Latino coastal community. “And many of our members are active in relief efforts.”

In Pleasanton, Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of the Tri-Valley reported that his Jewish center lost power last week at the end of the religious school day.

Students at Chabad of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton studied by candlelight and electric lantern during a brief power outage last week. (Photo/Courtesy Chabad Tri-Valley)
Students at Chabad of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton studied by candlelight and electric lantern during a brief power outage last week. (Photo/Courtesy Chabad Tri-Valley)

“The kids studied by candlelight,” Resnick said, adding that the Chabad center was also experiencing a leaky roof.

Around 99,000 Bay Area customers were without power because of downed power lines on Jan. 4 and 5, according to PG&E.

Resnick noted that his Chabad still held Shabbat services as planned, adding that one of his congregants asked him whether they could “skip the part [in the service] about asking God for rain.”

“I chuckled,” the rabbi said.

Feeling the effects of stormy weather in the Bay Area? Let us know. Email [email protected].