Thursday, January 17, 2008

Community Needs

Though our shul in Biloxi did not receive any flood damage, there was extensive wind damage. These pictures from a volunteer group show the devastating damage. The decision was made to move the shul further inland. This decision was reached after figuring the costs of repairing the shul and the added insurance costs of being so close to the beach. Former shul president Steve Richer describes in detail the extant of the damage and future insurance costs:

Beth Israel is located just two blocks inland from what one year ago would have been a crowded beach.

Severe mold has left it smelling as if it hasn't been inhabited in decades. The backs of the kitchen cabinets are missing, thanks to wind-driven rains, and much of the ceiling in the entryway to the building lies in pieces on the floor. One of the few rooms to remain largely unharmed is the sanctuary, whose Torah scrolls were removed for safekeeping prior to the storm.

"We don't really care to fix up the moldy parts of the building," Richer said, noting the congregation is deciding whether to fix up the sanctuary, while demolishing and building anew the rest, or move to a new location. "The current location is very close to the beach and a casino bought land right across the street, so if we stay we'll be staring at it. Insurance paid us $130,000, but I'm sure we need a million either way ‹ to build it up or to move."

The Goldin family, active members of our congregation, generously donated land for our new shul. The new shul will be located 12 miles inland and will be in Gulfport. We have had some set-backs. Ground-breaking has been put off two times, largely due to the bids we have received. These bids came in double what was expected and budgeted. Brad Kessie, our new president, and the building community have scaled down the building and at the same time, incorporating into the plans, means of easy expansion. In our January newsletter, received via e-mail, President Brad Kessie gave the following report:

Just before our architect took off for the holidays, he sent the building committee the final plans for our reworked synagogue. This building is 4,182 square feet. It has another 847 square feet of expansion space. On Jan. 8, the building committee will meet at the Goldin office building. And if the plans get adopted, the congregation board will look at them the next night. So, if I understand the time deadlines properly, we should go out for bid in mid-January, and the bid process should be completed in mid-February. At our last board meeting of 2007, the trustees came up with a CBI wish list. Groups like USCJ and UJC have requested a list like this, so organizations know what we need in our recovery and rebuilding efforts. I want you to read the list, and if you see anything you’d like to add to it, simply call any board member.

Here’s our wish list:

funds for a Passover Seder in 2008
kitchen equipment,
four sets of plates, pots, pans,
comfortable/removable chairs,
tables/chairs for the social hall,
four memorial boards,
two new Torahs(or volunteers to repair our Torahs),
an ark/ner talmid,
stained glass,
materials for the rabbi’s study,
office equipment,
classroom equipment,
men’s/ladies room accessories,
outdoor benches,
outdoor playground,
landscaping/exterior lighting,
interior lighting,
audio/visual system,
conference room equipment,
new High Holidays machzors,
Torah study books
Purim funds.

Contact information for Beth Israel is as follows:
Congregation Beth Israel
PO Box 4868,
Biloxi, MS 39531

Our shul and many of its members are struggling after Hurricane Katrina. It is a small congregation. Before Hurricane Katrina, it had membership of 60 families. A third of those families had to move after Hurricane Katrina either because their homes were destroyed or because their places of employment were destroyed. Some have been able to move back and rebuild. Since Hurricane Katrina, our shul has gained new members. Some of these new members are military. Some are here to help the Mississippi Gulf Coast rebuild.

There have been so many changes to the lives of those who live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina made a direct hit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. There have been so many volunteers and other generous out-pourings of help. In a way, Hurricane Katrina, despite all the destruction and massive rebuilding that has been done and yet to be done, serves as a reminder of the willingness of ordinary people to help. The indomitable will of the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast to rebuild has been and will continue to be strengthened by those who have lent their hands and their money to help us.

The rivers may rise and rage.
the waters may pound and roar,
the floods may spread and storm:

above the crash of the sea and its breakers,
awesome is the Lord our G-d.

1 comment:

Steve Richer said...


Thanks for this excellent report.