A few hours after Shabbat services one Friday night in October of 1998, the heavens over Tegucigalpa opened up. Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras, killing some 7,000 people in the country and flooding the capital. The city's synagogue, one and a half blocks from the Choluteca River was inundated with water; the roof collapsed and walls buckled; one Torah scroll was carried away by the torrent.
It was wrinkled, soaked with mud, smelled moldy. For Rabbi Emmanuel Vinas, it was a godsend, "a dream come true for me." The Jewish family life education director at the JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown is using the 150-year-old sefer Torah heavily damaged in November during flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch as the center of a communitywide learning program.
Philip Gelman knew, even before he stepped on a Tegucigalpa-bound American Airlines flight last week, that the synagogue and most other buildings in the capital of Honduras had suffered heavy damage during Hurricane Mitch.But he wasn’t prepared to see it.
“Fortunately, it was dark” when the Manhattan native, president of the Jewish community in Tegucigalpa, returned to Honduras. “Part of me really didn’t want to see what was here.”