Exterior of Jewish Congregation of Maui. (Photo/mauijews.org)
Exterior of Jewish Congregation of Maui. (Photo/mauijews.org)

Chabad of Maui in evac zone, while another synagogue shelters fire evacuees

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

As a vicious wildfire tore through Western Maui on Wednesday, Rabbi Mendy Krasnjansky was 5,000 miles away, wondering if he would ever see his Chabad house again.

The fire, fanned in part by strong winds from Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 storm, has devastated the island, killing at least 36 and forcing the evacuation of more than 11,000, The New York Times reported Thursday. Krasnjansky — who left with family on vacation before the fire broke out — said he had heard from a pair of congregants who thought the blaze had consumed their homes. Many were living out of their cars as crews battled the inferno.

“People are suffering,” Krasnjansky said in an interview. “It’s a pretty heavy situation.”

As for Chabad of Maui, the rabbi said it was in the evacuation zone, about two miles from the fire line as dawn broke. Volunteers were standing by, ready to get Torah scrolls and other Jewish ritual objects out of the building.

At the Jewish Congregation of Maui, Kalo Yujuico, who helps run operations, said the synagogue was open for shelter and accepting donations of emergency supplies.

The synagogue is in the Kihei area — on the other side of a north-south highway from the fire, and therefore not subject to the evacuation.

Most of the nondenominational synagogue’s few dozen members, Yujuico said, are year-round Maui residents, and one of them owned a restaurant that was damaged in the fire.

But her eyes were on the historic town of Lahaina, about 20 miles up the coastal road from the synagogue, which appeared devastated by the blaze.

“Maui is the second-biggest island, but still, the community is small. To see that, that’s like a part of us,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Krasnjansky, who has been director of the Chabad house for five years, says it serves a Jewish community that ranges from 1,500 to 2,000 people and includes “a beautiful blend” of locals, transients and tourists who pass through the island.

He said he may return from his trip early, conditions permitting. In the meantime, he thanked the Jewish world for its prayers.

“The people I’m speaking to on the ground are saying the visibility is nothing, it’s raining ash,” Krasnjansky said. “Sounds pretty apocalyptic. We have to keep on davening.”

This article was originally published on the Forward.

Louis Keene
Louis Keene

Louis Keene is a staff reporter at the Forward. He can be reached at keene@forward.com or on Twitter @thislouis.