Flood Remembrance Event Gathers the Community – “First Yahrtzeit”

img_flood_dove-oliveJewish Together Boulder organized a moving program on September 14th, 2014 to commemorate the first anniversary — a first yahrtzeit — of the devastating 2013 Boulder Flood.  Haver, Boulder’s Rabbinic Fellowship, led a spiritual ceremony that included shofar blowing by four of their members, and prayers and songs.  Jonathan Lev, Executive Director of the Boulder JCC and Cathy Summer, Director of Boulder’s Jewish Family Service branch, helped recognize the many mitzvahs accomplished in the wake of the flooding by local, national and international organizations, many of which were represented at the event.

A 13-minute documentary made from some seven hours of interviews was also screened for the first time.

l-r: Amy Atkins, of JT Boulder, holding the plaque as Jonathan Lev, of the Boulder JCC, reads the inscription.

JT Boulder also announced that it would be providing a special plaque to the key organizations involved in the flood and flood recovery efforts:

To commemorate the web of connections we have made, we are putting up plaques in significant places to remember our coming together as one community. The plaques all read the same “The floodgates of the sky broke open” They will be placed at Bonai Shalom, Har HaShem, Chabad Boulder, Chabad Longmont, the Boulder Jewish Commons and at JEWISHcolorado, all locations of significant impact.

The formal ceremonies were followed by nosh (of course) as well as opportunities for the attendees to share their stories in several modalities including a story circle and the construction of a tapestry of stories written on strips of cloth.

Web of Connections Flood Story and Thank Yous

  • We have all seen the numbers of buildings lost, evacuations, and inches of rainfall. Let’s replace these numbers with a new set of numbers and stories.
  • It is remarkable that these organizations helped each other, even when their organization’s properties were damaged and for many their own personal property and homes were under water.
  • While we have tried to provide specific examples of the interweaving of organizations, this quote by Rabbi Yakov Borenstein sums up the feeling of so many as we look back on the past year, “I see a tremendous amount of good in people. Volunteers and donations are coming from all over. What a beautiful world we live in.”
  • Thank you to Aish Kodesh who helped to move 60 boxes from designated geniza sites to a specially designated gravesite in the Jewish cemetery so that we could treat damaged books with respect in keeping with our tradition. Aish Kodesh also welcomed the entire community to their sukkah and hosted a huge sukkah celebration just as the flood waters were receding. They also housed Bonai Shalom’s Thursday morning services.
  • Thank you to Beth Ami whose members home-hosted Israeli staff from the international disaster relief organization IsraAid.
  • DSC_0003Thank you to Bonai Shalom, who as most of you know was completely underwater and still managed to create and facilitate a web matching program linking volunteers with those in need. The Bonai Shalom staff was able to quickly regroup and find a place to house Yom Kippur services for their congregants and guests.
  • Thank you to the Boulder Jewish Community Center who worked as the hub for flood information, updates and connections. As one of the main information arteries, they brought organizations together to help link people to resources. They also housed Bonai Shalom’s offices immediately after the flood and were home to the Bonai Shalom school through the 2013-2014 school year.
  • Thank you to members of Boulder’s homeless community who tirelessly worked to clean out Har HaShem’s damaged areas quickly and efficiently. Their prompt and enthusiastic work enabled Har HaShem to clean out their space very quickly to prevent mold and other damage from setting in.
  • Thank you to Boulder Jewish News who kept everyone informed in real time of resources, updates and needs.
  • Thank you to Chabad of Boulder County who prepared 210 meals for members of the community who were grateful to receive a hot meal delivered to their door. They also distributed 75 pairs of donated Crocs to families along with pumps and other supplies. They created a mobile sukkah and helped disperse $10,000 in micro-grants to those in need.
  • Thank you to Chabad at the University of Colorado who deployed brigades of student volunteers across the county. CU students were very willing to help as 130 students signed up within the first 24 hours of hearing the call for help. Chabad served as a geniza site for people to drop off damaged books and papers and ensured that all displaced students without family in the area had a place to stay.
  • Thank you to Chabad of Longmont who coordinated volunteers, supplies, transportation and other resources. They worked with the other Chabad organizations to help people navigate the FEMA process for getting funds and were a key player in coordinating relief efforts with other organizations in Longmont.
  • Thank you to Chabad of NW Metro Denver who provided free accommodations to people who wanted to attend their services for Yom Kippur.
  • Thank you to Denver Academy of Torah who mobilized a group of volunteers from Denver to help Bonai Shalom during their Day of Service clean up day.
  • Thank you to volunteers from Baptist Churches in Moore, Oklahoma who, through the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief organization, came to Boulder to help clean up our city even in the wake of their own disaster – a tornado that hit their community in May of 2013.
  • Thank you to IsraAid whose staff and volunteers were in Boulder County for almost a month and provided 1,000 hours of support in 40 homes. Not only do they have specialized disaster mitigation training (and can lead groups of volunteers who may not have ever done this type of work), they are also skilled in helping people reconnect to their lives emotionally and psychologically as we all know that the flood affects more than just our physical lives and spaces. They worked closely with Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization made up of US Veterans.


  • Thank you to Har HaShem whose quick response to their own flood damage enabled them to house Bonai Shalom’s offices until just this past summer. They were also able to mobilize and deploy volunteers to assist at senior living communities, lend out pumps and other equipment, serve as a geniza site for books and papers, and took the lead on ensuring that these damaged sacred texts received a proper burial.
  • Thank you to Hebrew Educational Alliance whose youth group members drove from Denver to Har HaShem to help clean out materials that were damaged during the flood.
  • Thank you to Jewish Together – Boulder, a collaboration between 30 organizations that serve Boulder county for helping deepen the relationships between colleagues across denominational boundaries. The work of these organizations meeting to strengthen Judaism in Boulder County helped facilitate a speedy response to those in need. Many of the organizations we are recognizing today are part of this initiative and made it possible for us to gather here today and celebrate our community.
  • Thank you to Jewish Family Service who served 142 individuals through counseling, support groups and case management in the days and weeks after the flood. They dispersed 71 grants totaling $297,000 to people who often did not have adequate insurance or other means of assistance. They were a key organization connecting those in need to people and resources.
  • Thank you to Naropa University who although they were closed trying to assess their own damage opened space at the request of the university president for Bonai Shalom to be able to hold Yom Kippur services.
  • Thank you to Nechama, a national disaster relief organization who flew here to be with us today from Detroit who is currently in the process of cleaning up after their own historic flood. Nechama provided 4300 hours of labor, organizing 143 volunteers from around the country. They worked in 22 homes, synagogues and mosques providing technical expertise and specialized assistance.
  • Thank you to Nevei Kodesh who made it possible for people to live stream services over Yom Kippur if they were unable to get to a Yom Kippur service in person. They also housed Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten for the first half of the school year and served as a geniza site for sacred texts and papers.
  • Thank you to Ramah Outdoor Adventure who mobilized staff and volunteers to help clean up Bonai Shalom.
  • Thank you to Temple Emanuel Denver who also mobilized volunteers to help clean up Bonai Shalom.
  • Thank you to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder who hosted Bonai Shalom’s services from after the flood until just recently. They have also served as an emotional support and friend for our community and its leadership.
  • We wanted to share a special thank you to JEWISHcolorado who served as a catalyst and enabler in so many ways. Their prompt response and enormous financial support allowed… (specific numbers $608,000 from all over the country; 1,200 individual donors-50% from outside Colorado, $373,000 to organizations many of whom were able to offer individuals grants from that money, and $235,000 to individuals.

DSC_0058These snapshots give us a glimpse into the amazing ways our community worked together in the days weeks and months after the flood. Rabbi Joshua Rose who many of you know as the Rabbi of Har HaShem during the flood said this about our community:

The entire Boulder community came together during this crisis. Students from CU Chabad, members of the neighboring Conservative congregation, strangers off the street – so many have reached out.  JEWISHcolorado has been wonderful, the JCC is by our side, Jewish Family Service has been a lifeline to many.”

In our tradition, a year after a loved one passes we hold a yahrtzeit, an unveiling of a tombstone and the end to the formal mourning period. As with the passing of a loved one, there is still mourning and in this case, still work to be done to rebuild. Let’s take a few moments to mark this anniversary of the flood with this quote from Rabbi Marc Soloway:

We’re quite a small, but mighty number…the big picture is that we are a connected Jewish community that says: ‘if something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.’”

Photos from the event:

About David Fellows

I've been writing things since grammar school, and served as a writer, photographer and/or an editor on my junior high and high school newspapers; the Daily Trojan at USC (where I earned my journalism degree); the student newspaper at the Anderson School at UCLA (where I earned my MBA); and written and edited countless business documents and presentations in the ensuing twenty years. I've been involved Jewishly since my bris and in Boulder since 1995. I'm married to my Executive Director Cheryl, and we have two children, Lauren and Ethan.

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