Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Tammuz 25, 5774

Ice Storm Power Outage Paralyzes Communities

February 6, 2014 By:
Amishai Gottlieb and Eric Berger
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The Kaiserman JCC became a shelter for hundreds of Lower Merion residents who lost power on Wednesday and Thursday.

Alan Seeherman can only recall one winter that might rival the current weather affecting the community — the infamously icy winter of 1993-94.

Seeherman, Adath Israel's morning minyan captain for the last 15 years, said it has been extremely difficult to put together a minyan due to the icy snow storms that have been plaguing Philadelphia recently. 

"Everyone's complaining about the snow, having no heat in their homes and no energy," Seeherman said in a phone interview after a fallen tree knocked out the power of the Conservative synagogue on the Main Line Tuesday evening.

Power outages stemming from Tuesday night's ice storm were still causing headaches in various communities on Thursday. Residents of Chester, Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties were stuck without energy or heating, leading many synagogues, schools and businesses to close.

"7,000+ in Twp still without power, down from 16K Wed night; Libraries, fire halls open as warming stations," Lower Merion Township tweeted on Feb. 6.

Beth David Reform synagogue in Gladwyne canceled all Thursday activities due to the power outage.

The weather also prompted Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park to cancel several minyans this week. Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, who is preparing to retire after more than three decades leading the synagogue, said earlier this winter that coming from Rochester, N.Y., he would "chuckle sometimes at the way a little bit of snow paralyzes the region." 

It used to be that nothing would stop him from traveling to synagogue for a minyan but he has become more cautious.

"I think that we have a different mindset than we had 10, 15, 30 years ago, and I don’t know if that is for better or worse," Rosenbloom said. "I think safety has to be paramount in these kinds of things. There is no reason to endanger life or limb to say that we had a minyan even though there was a foot of snow on the ground."

Penn Valley's Congregation Beth Am Israel sent out the following message Thursday morning: "BAI is still without power and all afternoon and evening activities and classes are cancelled. Har Zion has power and invited members of our community to stop by for warmth, Internet, to charge devices and watch TV."

Har Zion and Beth Am members also offered to help people find warm places to sleep if they were in need.

Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy also closed for a few days "due to the weather conditions and widespread power outages," according to the school's website. Both the Stern and Forman branches of the Perelman Jewish Day School closed as well.

Though Adath Israel was part of the lucky half of Lower Merion Township to get power back on Thursday morning, Seeherman said he understood that some people would not be able to make it to services over the next few days as the roads and sidewalks were still slick with ice.

"We don't want them to put themselves at risk."

The Kaiserman JCC became a shelter for hundreds of Lower Merion residents who lost power on Wednesday and Thursday. Staff members provided the basics — showers, places for people to charge their electronics — as well as activities to stave off boredom: movies, an obstacle course and fitness classes. 

"This is what a community center should be," said Beth Segal, director of the JCC. "Neighbors are connecting with each other. It's a great community feeling."

But weather wasn't going to stop Israeli folk dance leader Don Schillinger from holding his usual Thursday night session. In an email sent this afternoon, he invited dancers to join him at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood starting at 7 p.m.

"Leave your home that has no electricity!" he wrote. "Take a scenic drive on the roads that have been cleared. Dancing is ON!"

Email your photos and stories from the storm to agottlieb@jewishexponent.com. Click on the multimedia tab at the right for scenes from the JCC during the power outage. 

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