Since last Friday, Rabbi Yossi Groner of Charlotte’s Ohr HaTorah said he’d tried in vain to reach the rabbi at their satellite synagogue in hurricane-ravaged Wilmington.
The coastal city, pounded by two feet of rain, had been cut off by floodwaters, leaving Rabbi Moshe Leiblich of Chabad of Wilmington with no power or phone service for days.
But with Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, fast approaching, the two Orthodox rabbis finally made contact by phone on Monday.
How can we help you? Groner asked.
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Leiblich’s reply: Send kosher food!
In Charlotte, Groner’s family and others started shopping and cooking and ... looking for a helicopter.
Delivery by air was the only option. After Hurricane Florence hit, isolating Wilmington, a truck from Raleigh filled with kosher food —food that conforms to Jewish dietary regulations — had been turned away by authorities because of treacherous road conditions.
So Groner’s son, Ben Tzion, said he notified a friend who’s a helicopter mechanic.
On Tuesday morning, a helicopter loaded with 150 pounds of food — including kosher chicken, kosher yogurt, cream cheese, and “honey cakes,” traditional treats for a sweet Jewish New Year — took off for the airport in Wilmington.
When it arrived at about 1:30 p.m. — just hours before Yom Kipper was to begin at sundown — Leiblich was there to pick it up.
“It was tremendous, and certainly a relief,” he said. “It gave us kosher meat until the stores are back to normal.”
The rabbi spent the rest of the daylight hours Tuesday driving roads that were still passable, delivering ready-to-eat meals to Jewish families getting ready for the holiday.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews fast, abstaining from food and drink and spending hours in their synagogues praying.
That makes it especially important, Groner said, to have food right before and right after Yom Kippur, which ends at sundown Wednesday.
And with the other synagogues closed because of the hurricane, Leiblich said, his Yom Kippur service at Chabad of Wilmington is expected to be the only one this year in this city of 800 to 1,000 Jewish families.
Groner said the idea of helping others is especially paramount during the Jewish High Holy Days, which start with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and end with Yom Kippur.
“And to think that some would not have access to kosher food before and after the holiday,” he said, “plucks at the heart.”