By Joshua Runyan, chabad.org
The Talmud states that one who has never the joyous ceremony in the Holy Temple during Sukkos, has never seen joy. Jewish residents of S. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands will take that message to heart tonight when they commemorate the thousands-years-old ritual during a special party almost snuffed out by Hurricane Omar.
According to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Asher Federman, radio disc jockeys throughout S. Thomas were talking about the “miracle” that saw Omar, a strong Category 3 storm packing 125 m.p.h. winds, abruptly turn to the east Wednesday night, thereby sparing the tiny island. Had it hit, not only would the historic island have seen vast devastation, but the sukkah set up by the rabbi and wife Henya Federman for the benefit of the community would likely have been destroyed.
“Thank G-d, we’re all fine,” said Federman, who moved to S. Thomas as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in 2005. “Practically the whole island was telling us yesterday to cancel this party, that our sukkah was in peril, that we shouldn’t make ourselves crazy.”
But now, laughed Anna Paiewonsky, 42, whose 97-year-old grandfather is S. Thomas’ oldest-living Jewish resident, “nothing will stop this party.”
Known as a simchat beit hashoeva, the party commemorates daily rituals held during the time of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which saw the pouring of water on the Temple’s altar. Today, such festive gatherings take place across the world throughout Sukkos’s intermediate days.
In S. Thomas, about 50 people are expected in the Federmans’ sukkah.
The rabbi noted that when the holiday began Monday night, a hurricane strike was the farthest thing from people’s minds. Omar appeared “almost out of nowhere” on Tuesday, and the island went into lock-down on Wednesday; forecasts called for the storm’s eye to pass directly over S. Thomas. The Federmans, however, observing the strictures of the first two days of the holiday, didn’t turn on a radio and remained in a festive mood.
“It probably was an interesting sight for people to see us on Wednesday as we and our guests came into our sukkah to make kiddush,” said Federman, referring to the holiday and Shabbat blessing over wine that begins a festive meal. “I overheard a passerby commenting that ‘this rabbi is really not in touch with reality.’ ”
On Wednesday night, the Federmans prayed that the storm wouldn’t harm the island, and that the Jewish community could celebrate the rest of Sukkos in peace. The couple also sent a prayer message to be read at the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
At about the same time, the hurricane changed its path, reserving the brunt of its power for the island of S. Croix, to the south. The worst S. Thomas saw from Omar were 35 m.p.h. winds; according to The New York Times, authorities reported no casualties, save for a 55-year-old man suffering a heart attack off the coast of Puerto Rico.
By dawn, Omar was barreling into the Atlantic Ocean, where it was expected to quickly deteriorate.
“It’s pretty amusing,” commented Paiewonsky. “All of the radios are talking about Divine intervention. This is nothing short of a miracle.”