In 2009, Chisuk Emuna members were forced out of their synagogue by a devastating fire that destroyed their sanctuary just days before Passover.
They relocated to the Jewish Community Center.
Last month, Chisuk Emuna members were forced out of there by flooding, which caused at least $1.5 million damage shortly before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which begins at sundown tonight and ends at sundown Saturday.
They relocated their High Holy Days to Scottish Rite Cathedral, their board meetings to the president’s home and their Hebrew School and the daily prayer to the home of their educational director.
Now, most members are looking ahead to the groundbreaking for their new synagogue in uptown Harrisburg in two weeks.
It takes more than fire and flood to rattle this resilient congregation.
“The name Chisuk Emuna means strength in faith,” said Rabbi Ron Muroff, congregation spiritual director. “We get our strength from our faith. We are not alone. God is with us. We know that a congregation is more than a building.”
Chisuk Emuna, a conservative Jewish congregation, also survives its challenges by being a close-knit family, said Muroff and Carl Shuman, the congregation president.
“The fire hit us in the heart, but our congregation was intact,” Shuman said. “The fire left the main sanctuary a charred hole. Almost all of our Torah scrolls had been wrapped in heavy needlepoint mantles made by the women of our congregation. The mantles were damaged, but the scrolls inside were saved.”
The 12-inch Torah pointer that Shuman had made out of gold, sterling silver, pearls and other jewels also was damaged, but Shuman was able to restore it and return it to use.
Immediately after the fire, the Chisuk Emuna congregation was invited to move into the Jewish Community Center. Members have been having services and meetings there for two years.
Chisuk Emuna Congregation was forced out of its building by a fire in 2009 and more recently had to leave the Jewish Community Center as a result of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee, but they continue to persevere by holding Hebrew school in a member’s home.
During this time, the congregation decided to rebuild in uptown Harrisburg so that the most observant members could continue to walk to the synagogue. Synagogue leaders searched for a site, ultimately picking the old Riverside School at 3219 Green St. Groundbreaking is scheduled Oct. 16.
“The last few years have been challenging for us,” Shuman said. “But we have an indomitable spirit. Our members are resilient.”
When the flood came and inundated the Jewish Community Center, Chisuk Emuna had to regroup. Again.
Shuman called the flood unsettling.
“We’ve been through fire and flood, so when are the locusts coming?” he joked. “The flood was right before our High Holy Days. We scrambled, but we really didn’t miss a beat.”
He said congregation leaders made arrangements to hold the services in the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
“We held Rosh Hashanah there,” he said. “Yael Muroff, our rabbi’s daughter, had her Bat Mitzvah there. It was a glorious weekend. We’ll hold Yom Kippur services there, too.” Chisuk Emuna’s portable ark on wheels has been put to good use lately, he added.
Since the flood, Shuman has hosted board meetings in his home. Mandy Cheskis, Chisuk Emuna education director, and her husband, Joel, synagogue campaign administrative manager, opened their home to both religious services and the congregation’s Hebrew School.
Earlier this week, first- through third-grade students sat around the Cheskises’ dining room table as Lynne Harlacher taught them about the Torah. Fourth- through sixth-grade students gathered around the kitchen table discussing the prophet Jonah and God’s willingness to forgive those who repent. They also made interpretive drawings.
Muroff taught sixth- and seventh-grade students how to properly wrap a Torah.
Mandy Cheskis said she and other Hebrew School teachers are using the flood as a lesson in service to others.
“We put together information about the flood damage, plus bottles of water and granola bars,” she said. “We passed them out at homes in the Green and Vaughn streets’ area. where our new synagogue will be built. We want to be good neighbors. We tell the kids that this is what you do for your neighbors.”
Muroff said his congregation’s challenges have brought blessings and lessons.
“We’ve grown closer as a family,” he said. “We’ve learned to accept the kindness of others. And we’ve been able to be of service to others, too.”