Hurricane Katrina brings Biloxi family to St. Thomas

     The devastation that has darkened so many lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has touched all of us very deeply. We need to rejoice in those wonderful stories that lift the heart. One such story is playing out here in the Virgin Islands. Among the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were interrupted by the storm is a young girl from Biloxi, Miss.
      Brandi Moore was 13 in August and has spent the last few months preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah. She studied her prayers and scriptural readings for the celebration, which was scheduled for her synagogue in Biloxi on Sept. 3. Hurricane Katrina changed all of that. The synagogue was severely damaged by the storm and the Bat Mitzvah was cancelled.
      Rabbi Arthur Starr had been in touch with colleagues and other Jewish community leaders, especially through our United Jewish Communities representative in North Carolina. When he learned of Brandi's Bat Mitzvah being cancelled, he offered the pulpit of this historic Synagogue for her celebration.
      "Within hours of proposing the idea, I had offers of plane tickets, housing and a catered luncheon following the celebration," Rabbi Starr said.
      Several telephone calls later and just about everything was in place. Brandi and her parents, Gail and Peter, will be flying here and spending part of the High Holy Days and the following Sabbath, Oct. 15, when she will be called to the Torah and read the prayers and scriptural readings in becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
      "She won't have all of her family here with her, or her friends from home - but she will have a new family and friends joining her for the celebration," Rabbi Starr said. "I expect there will be a large turnout of our members joining in this celebration and helping to bring some joy into a family that has suffered the devastation that they have witnessed in their community."
      In addition to helping this one child, the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas has embarked on a major fund-raising effort for Hurricane Relief, designating 100% of its Kol Nidre Appeal -- a venue usually used to raise funds for the synagogue's operating budget -- to various relief agencies. One such agency, the Union for Reform Judaism, has turned its summer camp in Utica, Miss., into a distribution center for water, food and clothing in the poorest areas of the state. It also supports Oxfam America, Second Harvest, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.