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Flood Recovery

On Monday, September 11th, Leominster MA, experienced torrential rains and widespread flooding.  Caught in the raging waters was Congregation Agudat Achim, a hundred year old Conservative Synagogue. The synagogue has stood in its location for 65 years as a center of Jewish life for Jews coming from across North Central Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. While the waters may have receded from Leominster, it took over two days to pump the water from the synagogue basement, where flooding was higher than the basement ceiling, and pumps continue to run on generator power to keep the synagogue dry. 

 

With the High Holidays quickly approaching we packed up and were able to find temporary space with the Worcester JCC and the Jewish Healthcare Center for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. We didn't need the holiday of Sukkot to remind us of our vulnerability in God's world, but we built our sukkot, held services and programming and gathered as a community in these temporary structures. 

 

The short and long term are both uncertain as the leadership and congregants work first to restore power and then to determine how, in increasingly intense weather, to protect the synagogue for its next hundred years in Leominster.

It only felt like 40 days and 40 nights

Rabbi Eichenholtz was mesmerized by the power of nature when watching the 'new water feature' in the parsonage backyard.

From the first floor landing of the synagogue, looking down to the basement.  The waters already swirling and more than half way up the staircase.

Synagogue parking lot where Dragonfly Driving School's (tenants of the synagogue) cars are flooding as the water and mud pool up and rush by.

The waters recede

Synagogue furnace room
(14 ft ceiling)

After multiple days of pumping, the furnace is barely above the water line.  The 5 yr old concrete platform is 4 feet high so the water is still 3.5ft+ deep.

Synagogue basement
(10ft ceilings)

A lone box from the Purim Carnival floated up to the ceiling and got stuck on the duct work.

The surface of the ground was drying

The ground might have been dry but it certainly was affected by the flood. Standing in this hole the bottom foundation footing was still above a person's shoulders.

Water washed away all of the ground around the parsonage garage.  Rabbi Eichenholtz worried that the Passover dishes, Haggadah Collection and her entire Sukkah were going to end up in the ravine.

Thankfully crews got right to work and with 8+ trucks of fill were able to rebuild the ground around the garage.  Future chagim are officially saved!

Our congregants also...

 

A floating washing mashine, and swimming holiday and teaching supplies.  A ruined home office and eldest's bedroom. A gutted basement and ripped up carpets.  Our congregants' homes weren't spared either.

Update #1

Once the water was finally pumped out the real work began.  Did any of the electrical panels, wires, circuits survive the storm?  Day after day we waited for positive readings on the load of the cables and wires.  Once our cables carried current we could, potentially, begin the process of powering the building.  Finally, finally after weeks, we had, in one section of the building, the test result we needed to move, ever slowly forward.  But every step brings its own new challenges and needs.  If we were going to power the building, the site generator wouldn't cut it. Enter the Green Monster (we are in MA after all).  This generator and diesel tank will power our building (or at least the parts that can be powered) for as long as the city allows, or until power is otherwise restored.

Every day is a new test.  Which circuits today are dry enough to try and turn on?  Has there been too much water damage for 'that' section of cable or conduit to be reused? Once there is power, will the phones turn on? The internet? The boiler and furnace that are less than 5 years old?  Throughout it all, you can usually find our president, Rich Cohen, climbing on ladders, pulling cable, and even hitching the generator trailer up himself.  We are fortunate that he is our leader navigating this crisis now and will be a part of our long term project plan as we prepare for the many years it will take to fully rebuild and recover.

The Parsonage

That beautiful waterfall dug a ~2ft wide ~2ft deep trench and took out a gate and two fences.

After filling the pool the water spilled over and eroded much of the backyard, undermining the pool structure.

During the storm, as water starts to flood in.

After the storm, as the carpet started to be ripped up.

We got the garbage can out of the pool, but it took a team and a pump truck to suck out all the mud.

(not a blurry picture just that much rain and mist)

All that water actually pushed in the garage door, and filled it up about 2 ft. high.

 

Even with all of the chaos going on in the basement of her home, reorganizing her upper floor, and the property damage, Rabbi Eichenholtz, helped by her parents and congregants, built her Sukkah and hosted the congregation for Sukkot meals, services and programs throughout the week.

Rain kept us out of the Sukkah but not from Shabbat dinner together

Sukkot is a time to celebrate our wandering

Storytime in the Sukkah

All are welcome!

Update #2

When we once again packed up and set out for Leominster City Hall, to celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, we really thought that this ongoing building struggle was the worst the week would get.  How little did we know.  We gathered together, tampered by both our own community's strife, the horrific attacks by Hamas and the outbreak of war in Israel.  We celebrated, and danced with the Torahs (even as we also carried our worries, our heartache, our fear, our anger, our sadness), we ate and we hugged and we prayed.  We read from the Torah the story of creation and read the words

God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

How fitting that in our building I was then able to take this very picture.

It may only be one corridor, and it may not be permanent, and we still can't occupy the building, and this is powered by a generator, but on
this week of Parasht Bereshit, there
is light.

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784