California wildfires damage kosher winery

Death toll rises to 31, hundreds missing.


Hagafen Cellars after the fire
Hagafen Cellars after the fire
Courtesy of Hagafen Cellars

A kosher winery in Northern California sustained widespread damage from a wildfire still raging along the southern part of the Silverado Trail in Napa County.

Ernie Weir, owner of Hagafen Cellars, the North Bay’s only kosher winery, said Wednesday that all employees are safe and the main winery building is intact, but that the fire destroyed fencing, all of the agricultural equipment, a guest house, nearly an acre of Cabernet Sauvignon vines and all of the property's trees.

“What this all will mean for vintage 2017 is yet to be determined,” he wrote in an email. Weir said he is “reasonably certain” that the winery will be able to recover from the destruction “and continue” in business. The winery was founded in 1979.

As wildfires continue to rip through the North Bay Area, the Jewish community is reaching out to help those most affected by the devastation — including Jewish families who have been evacuated, some of whom have lost their homes.

There have been 31 confirmed deaths, dozens of injuries, and more than 2,000 homes and structures destroyed. The majority of the fatalities are from Sonoma County, where the city of Santa Rosa sustained heavy damage.

Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky of Chabad of Sonoma has been fielding calls from members of his community and with his wife, Altie, has been visiting those affected. They are making the rounds of nearby shelters that are housing people displaced by the blaze and handing out home-cooked meals.

“There are people in our community who have lost their homes, who have lost everything they have,” he told J. “We have been visiting with them, comforting them, seeing what they need, making sure everyone has proper housing.”

“A lot of Jews live in the Fountaingrove neighborhood,” he said, referring to an area of Santa Rosa that has been heavily damaged.

Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa is canceling its Sukkot celebration planned for Wednesday evening, and instead will hold a healing service at 6p.m. in the synagogue. Four member families have lost their homes in the fires, according to an email sent to the community.

The B’nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma is holding a joint Simchat Torah celebration Thursday at 6:30p.m. with Congregation Ner Shalom of Cotati. In an email sent to the general community, Rabbi Ted Feldman of B’nai Israel noted that several Ner Shalom families have taken shelter in the B’nai Israel building, not knowing whether their homes are still standing.

“This is a good time to bring our communities together to celebrate Simchat Torah and express our yearnings for healing in these difficult moments,” he wrote. “Even if Simchat Torah has not been on your agenda, I would propose your participation as an opportunity to help find each other’s strength as our community members struggle.”

The Jewish institution most affected so far by the wildfires was the Reform movement’s Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, where most of the buildings were reported destroyed on Monday afternoon. On Wednesday, the staff tried again to reach the property and assess the damage, but could not get near enough to tell.

“We couldn’t get within five miles of the property,” said communications director Alaina Yoakum. “The fires are still very active, and the roads are blocked.”

California has battled wildfires since Monday, and the death toll currently stands at 31, with hundreds of people missing.

Police are investigating the cause of the fires.

Chabad of Sonoma's Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky visits shelters with food and other necessities
Courtesy of Wolvovsky