update desk

Woolsey and Camp Fires, 2018

Rabbi grabs Torahs before California wildfires reach synagogue

Rabbi Barry Diamond ran into his Thousand Oaks synagogue, and managed to evacuate four Torah scrolls and a Megillat Esther.

The smoke plume from the fast-moving Woolsey Fire encroaching on Malibu on November 9, 2018, as residents evacuate along the Pacific Coast Highway. Source: Cyclonebiskit, Wikimedia Commons
The smoke plume from the fast-moving Woolsey Fire encroaching on Malibu on November 9, 2018, as residents evacuate along the Pacific Coast Highway. Source: Cyclonebiskit, Wikimedia Commons

A rabbi from California risked his life to save the Torah scrolls in his synagogue in Thousand Oaks, snatching them before they were burned in two massive wildfires that have claimed more than 6,800 homes and killed more than 40 people.

According to a JTA report, Rabbi Barry Diamond was awakened at 3 a.m. on Friday by a neighbor who warned him that their Southern California neighborhood was under a voluntary evacuation order.

Instead of putting his personal effects together to escape, Diamond drove 20 minutes to Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks—one of the areas most threatened by the fires.

According to the rabbi, fire had already begun to engulf the hill next to the synagogue as he ran inside, setting off the alarm and grabbing the congregation’s two Torah scrolls—one that survived the Holocaust and another that was just six months old.

Along with synagogue president Sandy Greenstein, he then evacuated another two Torah scrolls and a Megillat Esther, the scroll used to tell the story of Esther on Purim.

Diamond said the vegetation behind the synagogue caught fire just as he loaded the Torahs into his car and fled the scene.

He noted that he would work to support the larger community, whose property sustained damage during the fire, and also to provide counseling to those members of his congregation who survived the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill, also in Thousand Oaks, just two days prior to the eruption of the fire.

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