The water from the torrential rain that flooded the basement of Congregation Beth Shalom Chabad in Mineola, L.I., last month may have done significant damage to the shul, but its rabbi is looking ahead — even as he laid to rest an irreparably damaged Torah.
The water from a fierce storm that hit Mineola in mid-July was pumped out ahead of any mold damage and nearly 6,000 irreparably damaged prayer books and sacred works were placed in a repository.
Speaking before an event last Thursday, Rabbi Anchelle Perl, the 100-member congregation’s spiritual leader said, “We’re first going to have a ceremony on the steps of the synagogue and then have people walk about a block behind the hearse.”“The Torah will be put in a cement vault,” the rabbi said. “You cannot put it into an environment where it would disintegrate. The Torah is to be stored underground, not buried.”
The vault will be placed in one of the congregation’s cemetery plots at New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale. The event took place on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Av (last Thursday), the rabbi said, because 18 represents life.
And as soon as the vault is closed, Rabbi Perl said he would announce a fundraising drive to repair a Torah donated to the congregation that was written in the 1800s. When the storm hit, Rabbi Perl was in his basement office at the synagogue when he heard rainwater run down the steps and into the basement.
“I went for the mop,” he recalled. “I figured I’d clean it up. Then I saw it gushing in. It was coming in from every entrance. And the toilets then began backing up.”
As the water rose, Rabbi Perl removed his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants and began putting things that had been lying on the floor, including a computer and books, onto tables and desks. But the rain didn’t let up and the water kept coming in, flowing down five steps.
Outside, the flash flood filled the corner of Washington and Willis avenues in Mineola with water; the synagogue, built in 1931, is located on the southwest corner of that intersection and was the only building that flooded.
When the rain stopped and Rabbi Perl re-entered the room, he found hundreds of books floating in the water, as well as a ketubah (marriage contract) he was planning to use for a wedding at which he is to officiate. The ark had been knocked off the wooden pedestal it was sitting on, and the Torah was soaking wet. Rabbi Perl said he would have a scribe examine it, but that he believes the Torah is beyond repair.
Virtually every book in the room was destroyed by the water, including a complete set of the Talmud, the Encyclopedia Judaica, prayer books, children’s books, Rabbi Perl’s personal library and his papers documenting 30 years of service to the Long Island community. He estimated the damage at $500,000.
“I tried to live my life building other people’s lives,” he said. “Now I’m facing rebuilding myself. You can’t imagine the bittersweet feeling.”
The rabbi added that after the room was pumped dry, he found two books on the floor that had survived unscathed: “Guidance from the Rebbe” and “A Time to Weep.”