Fall 2005

     My dear friends,
      Summer was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy being with family, but it ended with a sudden jolt: Hurricane Katrina. What a terrible tragedy affecting all of us in so many ways. As I said during my first sermon after the event, there was nowhere to place the blame - I don't mean about the response or the lack of preparedness or the inadequate levee system or ignored effects of global warming, etc, etc. etc. After September 11th, we knew exactly where to place the blame. There was an identifiable enemy - they rejoiced in their attack on the United States.
      But Hurricane Katrina gave us no such target. In the weeks that followed we created many targets for our anger, but none of them was responsible for the Hurricane. I reject the simplistic notions (heard in some fundamentalist circles - both Jewish and Moslem - that it was God's revenge against the United States - either for siding with Israel or forcing Israel to surrender the Gaza Strip and West Bank. No, that is not my theology nor my understanding of God.
      So where was God? The same question was asked after 9/11. God was in the faces and energies and actions of the rescuers. God was in those who opened their hearts, their wallets, their homes to save lives, give comfort and provide sustenance. I am so proud of the response of this congregation and its members. (See articles on our response). The rain had barely stopped falling and I knew what this congregation would do. Last year it was Darfur and the Tsunami. This year it is a response to Hurricane Katrina.
      As we welcome this New Year of 5766, we pray for comfort for all those who were displaced or suffered losses. May the outpouring of support be a source of comfort to them all and may this year be one of recovery and renewal, of joy and fulfillment. For our brothers and sisters in Israel, we pray that the departure from Gaza will be a step on the road to everlasting peace there and here - and for all God's creatures. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!
      L'shalom, Rabbi Arthur F. Starr
      The Board of Directors asked the Congregation to respond immediately to the Kol Nidre Appeal right after the Hurricane. "We can't wait until Kol Nidre," said president Katina Coulianos. "The need is immediate and overwhelming."
      Last year, the Board voted that 36% of our Kol Nidre Appeal be sent to the Union for Reform Judaism to help the relief efforts in Darfur. The response was wonderful. With that as precedent, and the need even greater here at home, the Board has agreed to encourage greater giving by earmarking 100% of all money collected in the Appeal to Hurricane Relief, supporting the efforts of several organizations, including but not limited to the Union for Reform Judaism and the Red Cross.
      While the results of the appeal won't be known for several weeks, we encourage all of our members to contribute.
      Rabbi Starr, responding to Hurricane Katrina, offered to hold a ceremony here for anyone who was unable to become Bar/Bat Mitzvah because of the hurricane.
     One 13-year-old girl in Biloxi, Miss., was to become Bat Mitzvah on Sept. 3, only to find her synagogue destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Immediately the machinery began moving in St Thomas.
      Responding to Rabbi Starr's comments at services on Friday evening, within 24 hours we had a condo, plane tickets, a catered luncheon, photographer and much, much more. Brandi Moore and her parents, Peter and Gail, will be traveling from Biloxi to St Thomas in time for Kol Nidre services on Oct. 12. They will be staying on the island until Sunday, the day after she will be called to the Torah in front of her new family and friends.
      "The message to Brandi will be clear," said Rabbi Starr. "We are a family and have always tried to live like one. Most of us have no clue what life is like in Biloxi. We've never been there, we've never met the Moores, but we will celebrate one heck of a Bat Mitzvah with them here in St Thomas!"