stthomasMessage and Appeal
from Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach
and the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas

September 14, 2017

Dear Congregants, Chai Members, friends, colleagues, members of my former congregations, and so very many others:

It is now a full week since the fury of Hurricane Irma hit our islands. St. Thomas has been hit quite hard. Conditions on St. John are significantly worse than that. We are only beginning to be able to take steps, take stock, and get a sense of what we need to do to move forward. We have not even had a chance to read all of the greetings, good wishes, messages of love and support that have come from family, friends, one-time visitors and those who have never even been here. And your heart-felt offers of assistance are deeply moving. We are so touched by your love – and we are so grateful for your support.

Yesterday afternoon, just before curfew, we held an emergency meeting of those members of our Board, congregational leadership and Temple staff who were able to attend. We shared news, for the first time in a group setting, of what we know about those in need, and the roles we can play to help in the recovery effort as a whole.

With humility and gratitude, we accept your many offers of help

We will use your support in four distinct ways: aid for recovery for the island, support for members in need, repair of the damage we sustained, and support for the congregation as a whole.

• As aid for the island and community as a whole.
Part of the heart of the Reform movement of Judaism is a sense
of connection to the community, to the world of which we are a part. Our island is in pain and in need, and, with your support we will be there to help everyone here get back on their feet. Heroes are born all around us; our members are, as we always have been, playing very important public roles here. We hope to use our community house as a distribution point or a health center. We are working directly with civic, volunteer and public agencies. To paraphrase Hillel: “If we are only for ourselves, what are we?”

• As support for members of our own congregation in need.
As you can imagine, we have among us those who have lost roofs, walls, or entire homes. The house my family is renting lost part of its roof, flooded, and we just managed to get a FEMA tarp today. And we fared better than many others. Businesses are, at best, in a state of uncertain suspension. Some are relocating for medical or other reasons. Insurance and disaster relief aid will help; it will not be enough. We are in the very early stages of assessing our own needs. “If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?”

• To repair and restore our historic sites.
Our historic cemeteries have been very badly damaged. We face needs there to preserve and protect two of the most ancient Jewish cemeteries in the hemisphere. There is also damage from water and wind in the synagogue itself and in Lilienfeld House, our social and community hall across the street.

• For ongoing work to enhance Jewish life in the Virgin Islands.
We are reluctant to use a disaster as “fundraising.” We find the prospect… distasteful. But we face a new reality here. Life-cycle events and special visits are already being cancelled. This may continue. Your visits and your sense of connection here are a pillar of our congregation. Our work to sustain and grow a vibrant Jewish community in the Caribbean depends on you. Our synagogue is a living partnership, unique in this continent, with others all over the world. We are, indeed, a place where history and destiny meet. We need your help, to preserve this special story – and to be with us, as we write the next chapter. “If not now, when?”

We are establishing HIRE, a Hurricane Irma Relief Effort as a segregated line item to address all of these needs. Your support is, of course, tax-deductible to the extent permissible by law.

We expect US Postal Service to resume soon. Our address is

The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas,
PO Box 266, St. Thomas, VI, 00804-0266

Or you may contribute directly through our webpage, at www.synagogue.vi.As soon as internet connections are restored, we will update the site to make this easier.

The day will come when we will return to the plans we had: opening our doors for a “Taste of Judaism” to the general community, promoting a new and more nuanced sense of Jewish identity, deepening our connections with Israel, promoting pluralism, equality and education through our Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship awards, serving as an active voice for tolerance and progressive values in the general community, hosting B’nai Mitzvah and weddings, welcoming visitors in large groups or individuals who wander up synagogue hill.

But before we can do those things, we have immediate needs to address… and a High Holy Day season in which all of our plans have been – often very literally – turned upside down. Your assistance in picking us up, helping us recover from this devastating blow, including such basic acts as delivering and distributing food and water in some cases… it is… essential. And appreciated.

With love and with determination, and, always,
L’shalom (in peace),

Michael L. Feshbach
Rabbi