Groups offer help to synagogues affected by Boston-area gas explosions


BOSTON (JTA) — Jewish communal and religious organizations are offering assistance to synagogues and Jewish residents in three Boston-area communities affected by a massive series of gas explosions and fires that has killed at least one man.

The explosions on Thursday afternoon also resulted in at least a dozen injuries and widespread evacuations overnight.

On Friday afternoon, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, the impacted communities some 25 to 30 miles north of Boston. The area is home to several synagogues including Temple Emanuel, a large Reform congregation in Andover; Congregation Beth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Lawrence; Chabad Lubavitch of Merrimack Valley, also in Andover; and the unaffiliated Congregation Ansha Sholum in Lawrence.

At a news conference, Baker and local officials announced that residents will not be able to return to their homes until safety inspections are conducted of some 8,600 affected customers of Columbia Gas, a national utility company. Residents were evacuated Thursday evening when electrical power to residences and businesses was shut off to prevent a spark from igniting any stray gas.

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As of Friday afternoon, some 18,000 electrical customers were still without power, the Boston Globe reported.

Shabbat services on Friday night have been canceled at Temple Emanuel, according to its website. In an email to JTA on Thursday evening, in the early hours of the explosions and fires, and prior to the widespread evacuation orders, Rabbi Robert Goldberg wrote that the temple was safe and he had not yet heard from congregants.

On Friday, the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts was reaching out to the area synagogues and was coordinating a response with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, according to David Bernat, the council’s executive director.

The two groups will act as a resource and referral, he said, “if there are families who need home hospitality for Shabbat or a synagogue to go to.”

It is too early to predict if the situation will impact Yom Kippur services that begin Tuesday evening, but it’s important to have resources in place, Bernat said.

In a joint statement, the two groups said that “CJP and the Greater Boston Jewish community stand with the many residents of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover as they mourn the victim and pray for the recovery of the many injured by last night’s fires in the Merrimack Valley.”

The CJP website will list ways to help those impacted.

“We also want to let people who are concerned about the victims of these fires to know that there are ways to help, whether by hosting a family for Yom Kippur or by giving in other ways,” Rabbi Marc Baker, CJP’s executive director, said in a statement sent to JTA.

In addition to local and state safety officials, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also involved in investigating the cause.

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