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The Firetruck in Front of the Temple

There was a firetruck in front of the Temple, when I arrived back from my early afternoon meeting. Two trucks, in fact. One had a huge ladder rising up to the top of the roof, right above our building.

“Rabbi, There’s a Fire…”
I got the call as I was driving back to work. “Rabbi, come back quickly. There’s a fire in the building next to us. We smell the smoke.” Thanks to our staff’s quick thinking and their use of the emergency evacuation plan we prepared last year, they took out the Torah scrolls, our computers and critical files. Under the leadership of Rabbi Julia Weisz and with the help of faculty member Patti Wolfson, B’nai Mitzvah teacher Diane Townsend and office staff Barbara Gordon and Karen Moore, the process was calm, orderly and complete.
Just a call to our President Lucille Shalometh Goldin (who then contacted past president Susan Gould) and Safety and Security Task Force chair Steve Keleman brought them zipping to the Temple to help where they could. Rabbi Julia quickly canceled our Hebrew Tutoring classes and moved the B’nai Mitzvah tutoring over to Diane’s home. Our faculty redirected carpool parents back to their homes. Programming and Marketing Director Marsha Rothpan quickly sent out an email blast announcing the cancelations. Premises chair Terry Boykoff and congregant-contractor Stephen Bloom began drawing up backup plans in case the Temple was in danger of serious smoke damage. 

“No Fire,” Said the Firefighters
In the end, the firefighters found no fire. They traced the smoke to a burnt out engine in the air conditioning unit on the other side of the building. Unplugged and vented, the AC unit no longer endangered our building from fire or smoke. 

Safety Comes First
Deuteronomy 22:8 teaches that “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet (fence) for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” From this we learn that we are responsible to evaluate and guard against any dangers we can imagine.

At the top of each job description in the temple – including those of the clergy, staff and school faculty – is the expectation that our staff members will “ensure the health, safety and security of all students and adults within the temple and during Congregation Or Ami programs.” We recognize that safety comes first; only in a safe, secure, welcoming place can people delve into learning Torah and tradition.

That’s also why just a few months ago, Or Ami officer Steve Keleman convened a Safety and Security Task Force to evaluate, make recommendations and implement an overall safety and security plan for Congregation Or Ami. They have done walk thru’s of the building with parents, teachers and staff. They have implemented a number of short term and begun long term action steps to ensure the safety of our congregants, employees and guests. They are training staff and faculty; revising our emergency plans; addressing earthquake supplies and procedures; evaluating our insurance coverage; and more. Their work will continue as we continually upgrade our safety and security systems.

Praise for the Planning and Professionalism of our Community
Today Congregation Or Ami – our people and property – is safe. It turns out that no one was in any real danger at any moment.

We all can sleep tonight peacefully, comforted in the knowledge that when the chips were down, our staff and congregant leadership performed beautifully, taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our people and our prized possessions! Thanks to all of them, and to our quick responding Fire Department.

May we never face real danger. But if we do, let us be thankful for our the planning and professionalism of our Congregation Or Ami leadership.

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