Community braves icy weather

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Classes and programs throughout the Jewish community were cancelled as the predicted winter storm hit the area on Thursday and Friday. Many day schools and pre-schools closed early on Thursday and all schools remained closed on Friday. Hebrew schools and some religious schools also cancelled classes due to the extreme cold, poor driving conditions and in the case of B’nai El Congregation — no power.

“We had to cancel everything: services, religious school and our first annual community-wide Chicken Soup Cook-off,” Temple administrator Susan Baseley said. The congregation is planning on rescheduling the chicken soup event for sometime in March.

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The extreme cold and icing also presented another set of concerns for the synagogue. Baseley said the staff deliberately left water trickling to keep the pipes open to prevent them from freezing. On Monday morning everything was back to normal at the congregation which also houses Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy. The power returned Sunday evening. The synagogue had Schneider Heating come in to check over the system on Monday morning just in case said Baseley.

For one local family who wished to remain anonymous, the electrical outage just added insult to injury. The finished basement of their home had flooded during the huge rainstorm in September. They already had to move all the entertainment media and furniture from the basement to the first floor of their home to begin the extensive renovations to repair the water damage. When the power went out during the ice storm, they decided to stay in their home because all their electronics are visible from their front windows and the area has been experiencing some break-ins.

“Luckily we have a gas fireplace and the hot water heater is gas so we can take hot showers,” Sylvia (name changed) said. “Of course after the hot shower we step out into a 51-degree house.”

They tried to take advantage of the cold weather by putting the items from their refrigerator in the garage to keep cold. Unfortunately, it was too cold and everything froze and had to be thrown out. Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all has been the insistence of Ameren UE that their power was already restored on Saturday morning.

“I was on hold for 45 minutes on Monday morning and had to argue with them that I am sitting in my house and would clearly be aware if my power was on or off — and yes we had checked the circuit breakers,” Sylvia said. “I think we are ready to give up and stay at a hotel.”

One of the big disappointments for the community was the cancelling of the Women’s Connection Kickoff at the Coronado Ballroom featuring author Jennifer Weiner. The program was celebrating the uniting of two women’s groups in the community: the Jewish Federation’s Women’s Division and the Business & Professional Women. Debbie Warshawski director of communications for the Jewish Federation said they tried their best to keep from having to cancel the program, but eventually the conditions became too hazardous. They immediately contacted the media to get the word out with other closings being listed on local news stations. In addition, staff and volunteers called and e-mailed every one of the 500 people who purchased tickets for the sold-out event.

“The author had actually flown in the day before and was stranded just like the rest of us,” Warshawski said. “She offered to come back at no extra charge which was very generous of her. We are looking into the options for rescheduling.”

Many families were still without power on Monday morning including Rabbi Amiel Rosenbloom, assistant principal of Block Yeshiva High School. He said he and his family have slept in front of their fireplace or in their basement which is “seven degrees warmer” than the rest of the house. The family has received “tons of invitations” to help out.

“Every day the community offers assistance,” Rabbi Rosenbloom said. “It is tremendously open to everyone.”

Several families who had lost power spent Shabbos at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion said executive director Sandie Abrams. Congregants networked with one another to see who had power and who did not to help provide meals and housing where necessary.

“Fortunately our anniversary dinner on Sunday evening at the Crowne Plaza went successfully,” Abrams said. “Unfortunately, Rabbi Ze’ev Smason is still without power.”