Jewish institutions batten down as monster storm hits East Coast

Penny Schwartz

Pedestrians walking down Massachusetts Avenue during a massive winter storm in Boston, Mass., Jan. 4, 2018. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

BOSTON (JTA) — With blizzard-like conditions and storm surges battering the Massachusetts coast, a major senior living community with ties to the Jewish community is humming along at full speed.

“Our staff members – from direct care to culinary teams – are sleeping over as necessary and taking additional shifts in a way I see as heroic,” said Dana Gitel, marketing manager for Hebrew Senior Life, which serves the Newbridge on the Charles retirement community in Dedham, a suburb south of Boston.

The offices of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies are also officially open, but staff was told to use their best judgment about traveling in to the office, according to Julie Somers, the organization’s vice president for marketing.

“Knowing the storm was coming, we told our staff yesterday that …they should do what they feel is safest for them,” Somers wrote in an email. Staff have the technology to work from home, she added, and while she didn’t have an official count, she believes most people are working from home. They have not yet made a decision about opening the office for Friday, when arctic air is expected following the storm.

The first significant snow storm of the season hit the region early Thursday, and the snow accumulations are predicted to range from a foot to 15 inches in the Boston area, with lesser amounts west and south of the city. The fast moving snowfall is expected to last until this evening, with frigid temperatures not rising above single digits on Friday and through the weekend.

The monster winter storm put much of the East Coast in a deep freeze, with 15 different states from Maine to Georgia under some type of warning or advisory.

Dubbed a snow “bomb cyclone” by meteorologists, the storm packs dangerous winds that threaten to down power lines in some areas. Storm surges along with high tides are causing major flooding of roads along the coast south of the city and also threaten coastal areas on the North Shore, home to a large Jewish population.

Many Jewish communal organizations followed Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s lead and closed their offices. Staffers for the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League are working remotely from home, according to Robert Trestan, ADL New England’s executive director.

Thursday evening’s direct El Al flight between Boston and Tel Aviv was rescheduled to Jan. 6, according to the airline’s website. But with advanced notice of the cancellation, Matan Zamir, the deputy consul general of Israel to New England said in an email that some people planned to drive to New York to see if they could catch a flight scheduled for Thursday morning.

Many Jewish day schools are closed for the day, as are many public and independent schools in the area, including Maimonides School in Brookline; Metrowest Jewish Day School in Framingham; Gann Academy pluralistic high school in Waltham, west of Boston; and the Rashi School, a pre-K through 8 Reform Jewish day school that shares a campus with the Newbridge on the Charles retirement community.

Temple Israel in Boston, the city’s largest synagogue is closed today, as is the office of Congregation Kehillath Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Brookline. But KI was holding its morning and 7 p.m. minyanim, according to its website.

North of Boston, along the coast, some nine to 10 men braved the stormy weather for their workout at the North Shore Jewish Community Center in Swampscott. The JCC announced yesterday it would be open for five hours beginning at 5 a.m., according to Lenny Rotman, who at 6 a.m. joined his regular workout group. Later in the day, he ventured from his home across the street from a town beach in advance of the high tide, to see whether the waters would overflow to the road, as some anticipated.

“The wind is howling. There wasn’t a soul out except for the snow plow, and the fire captain patrolling the area. The waves were crashing on the beach. It was quite beautiful,” Rotman told JTA in a phone conversation.

There was no daily minyan at Congregation Shirat Hayam of the North Shore, in Swampscott, about a quarter-mile from Rotman’s home, according to his wife, Shelley Sackett, a regular minyan goer. The Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore is less than a mile away, as are two other synagogues in the other direction, in Marblehead, Rotman said.

Several Jewish communal programs were canceled or postponed including the JCC of Greater Boston’s event with award-winning novelist Tova Mirvis and the Jewish Women’s Archive.

But anyone hungry for a homemade bagel with lox, house-cured pastrami or a frothy mahia milkshake could still venture out to Mamaleh’s Deli in Cambridge, which opened for business as usual earlier in the day.