Florida Jews who decided not to flee set to face Hurricane Irma

Residents stayed put despite warnings and permission to travel on Shabbat


Many Orthodox Jews in Florida have decided to remain in their homes despite being told they could travel on Shabbat to escape Hurricane Irma.

Religous leaders instructed communities that violation of the Shabbath was permitted to evade the storm which has already caused 25 deaths and is described as one of the most destructive ever to hit the United States.

But many Jews appear to have ignored the warnings. Rabbi Chaim Lipskar, of the Chabad Downtown Centre in Miami, said around half of his community intended to remain and ride out the storm, which was due to make landfall on Sunday morning.

He told Times of Israel: “It’s a little surreal. The streets are empty. Offices are closed. I’ve never seen a hurricane where they have prepared so much in advance.”

More than seven million people have been ordered to flee their homes in several states, including nearly a third of Florida’s population. The storm is expected to bring 120 mph winds and sea surges as high as 15 feet. 

On Saturday state governor Rick Scott told residents: “You need to leave – not tonight, not in an hour, right now. This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.”

Around 655,000 Jews live in Florida. The Jewish Community Services of South Florida, which serves some half a million Jewish residents, has been calling vulnerable residents, many of them pensioners, to ensure they have adequate supplies of food and water and encouraging them to leave for more secure, government-run centres.

Hundreds of Florida’s Jews who have left have found refuge in Atlanta in the neighbouring state of Georgia.

The Orthodox Beth Jacob community was one of a dozen Jewish institutions welcoming the evacuees.

Its rabbi, Rabbi Adam Starr, told JTA: “We’re the largest [nearby] Orthodox community that’s not directly in the path of the hurricane. We can do a tremendous kindness in assisting these people who want to get out of harm's way.”

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