People photograph the floodwaters of the Tittabawassee River that encroached on downtown Midland, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Floodwaters have overtaken dams and forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people from communities in central Michigan. Families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered to leave home Tuesday evening, the second time in less than 24 hours.
People photograph the floodwaters of the Tittabawassee River that encroached on downtown Midland, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Floodwaters have overtaken dams and forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people from communities in central Michigan. Families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered to leave home Tuesday evening, the second time in less than 24 hours. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

President of Temple Beth El in Midland, Mich., says members are okay in the aftermath of the floods

Historic flooding has devastated several cities in mid-Michigan this week after two dams in Midland County broke.  

The flooding has displaced about 10,000 people from their homes. Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Wednesday, urging people to evacuate from the affected areas.  

The eastern Michigan Jewish community has jumped in to offer assistance to those who’ve been affected by the floods. Steven Low, president of the Flint Jewish Federation, said his organization has had a connection to the tri-cities Jewish community for years. 

When Low heard about the floods, he immediately began to contact people he knew in the area, including members and leaders of Midland’s small synagogue, Temple Beth El. 

“We’re waiting to hear from community members and leaders about what they need from us,” he said. “All of the Jewish institutions here are standing by to assist as we can.”  

Low said it’s still too early to know exactly what the needs of the Midland-area Jewish community will be, but the Flint Jewish Federation may be able to provide temporary housing, food or financial assistance and grants. They also have a bus and van that they could send to help transport displaced residents.  

“It’s a little trickier to offer volunteers, given the COVID crisis, but to any extent that we can do that and maintain social distancing and proper health precautions, we’re prepared to provide some sort of volunteers or manpower to assist them as well,” Low said.   

Chabad of Eastern Michigan, which is based in Flint but also services the tri-cities area, is offering assistance to people impacted by the floods, too.   

“The good news is that all the people we know, they’ve conveyed to us that everybody is safe. Their homes may not be safe, but they’re safe,” said Rabbi Yisroel Weingarten, director of Chabad of Eastern Michigan.  

Weingarten and his sons went to the tri-cities area on Friday to check in and deliver food and Shabbat supplies to over 35 people. On Thursday, he worried the bridges and roads he had to take to get there would be blocked, but by Friday water had receded enough for him to get through.

“You could see devastation. You could see parks flooded, covered in probably two, three feet of water,” Weingarten said. “On the front lawn of many homes, you see washers, driers, carpeting, beds, mattresses, couches, you name it. I’m telling you, it was literally heartbreaking.”

Rabbi Yisroel Weingarten of Chabad of Eastern Michigan and his sons delivered food and Shabbat supplies to people impacted by the Midland-area floods.
Rabbi Yisroel Weingarten of Chabad of Eastern Michigan and his sons delivered food and Shabbat supplies to people impacted by the Midland-area floods. Courtesy Rabbi Yisroel Weingarten

In an email to the Detroit Jewish News Wednesday evening, Temple Beth El President Sheldon Messing said the synagogue’s members seemed to be doing all right.   

“As far as I know our Jewish community is safe and coping well,” he wrote. “We are a very small congregation so we look out for one another.”  

In 2010, synagogues in Bay City and Saginaw, Mich., merged to create what is now Temple Beth El. Currently, the congregation has suspended programming until September due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

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