The devastating tornado that hit Omaha in early May 1975 was a little before my time, but as anyone who has lived in the Midwest for any length of time can attest, another one is always right around the corner.
On May 6 of that year, Ted Seldin was at home while his daughter Stephanie was at Temple Israel rehearsing for that year’s confirmation ceremony. As you can hear her describe in the video posted below, there had been storms and rumblings that entire week, so when the tornado sirens first went off no one gave them much thought.
Stephanie remembers Rabbi Brooks and Rabbi Weinstein telling the kids, “We have it on good authority that nothing bad will happen,” but ushering everyone downstairs just to be on the safe side.
Before too long, Stephanie remembers the two rabbis rushing downstairs and barking the usual safety precautions drilled into Midwesterners from Day One: Open the windows, huddle under the desks.
Stephanie remembers the moment the tornado arrived: “You hear about tornadoes sounding like a train? Trust me, they do.”
Soon, the train moves on and everyone picks themselves up and does a damage assessment. No major injuries. They head upstairs to see what had befallen Temple Israel.
Stephanie describes the front door being completely barricaded, and the stained glass windows in the sanctuary were all destroyed. The roof was gone from the building. Cars had been blown from one parking lot to another, next door and across the street. The devastation, while not complete, was still eye-opening.
But, as Stephanie remembers, “When I thought about it, they [the rabbis] were right. Nothing bad happened.” No one was seriously hurt, no one died, and as Ted describes later, when Rabbi Brooks went into the sanctuary to check on the Torahs, they were perfectly fine. Dry as a bone.
I personally have a difficult time believing in miracles, but when you see images of the destruction to Temple Israel and the surrounding area, the fact that no one was severely injured, the fact that the Torahs remained safe, despite there being no roof anymore, well, I wouldn’t argue with it being described as miraculous.
In the video below, Ted mentions a couple scrapbooks of photos and newspaper articles from the days after the tornado. I would urge anyone interested to take a look at them, to flip through the pages and truly get a sense of how bad the damage was, and to fully grasp how amazing it is that the Cass Street building is still standing.