Alum Spotlight: Rabbi Nicole Luna '11

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Rabbi Nicole Luna ’11
Temple Beth El, Fort Meyers, FL

How has the hurricane impacted your synagogue and your community?
At Temple Beth El of Fort Myers, Hurricane Ian turned all our lives upside down. Some congregants experienced catastrophic losses, others minor. As of now, 18 congregant families are currently displaced as they rebuild their homes. Many other congregants had significant damage from flooding, wind, and rain, and are undergoing the slow process of having insurance adjusters, roofers, contractors, and repair workers respond to calls, show up for appointments, and repair the damage.

In our Temple building, we recently completed major renovations from Hurricane Irma in 2017. While we feel fortunate our Temple building did not suffer from flooding, we have major hurricane-related losses outside. Our four preschool outdoor classrooms were flooded and destroyed. The children’s playground was wrecked with 10 large sunshades blown away and the toys and play centers scattered in the woods surrounding us. Three large oak trees were uprooted and crashed on our fencing. In the building, an electrical surge fried our fire alarm panel and we’re still sorting out electrical issues.

What role have you played in providing pastoral care and comfort to those suffering the consequences of the hurricane?
Immediately after the hurricane I contacted every congregant via text, email, or phone call. The congregation has truly come together in offering housing for those in need, organizing Shabbat meals, and donating to provide gift cards to help congregants replace food in their refrigerator and items lost in the storm. We had open online “Coffee and Chat” sessions to share our stories, commiserate together, exchange information and recommendations, and support each other. Rebuilding after a hurricane is exhausting, especially for our older congregants and especially after years of Covid-19.

How did your education at HUC-JIR prepare you for leadership during crisis?
I’m very grateful to HUC-JIR for providing me with tremendous colleagues who have offered financial and professional support and advice. The number of classmates and colleagues around the country who reached out was a major source of encouragement and strength.

How many individuals/families are part of your Temple Beth El congregation and what makes your community special?
Temple Beth El of Fort Myers has 255 membership units. Most of our members have migrated to southwest Florida, are living far from family, and came to Temple Beth El to find friends and a community. For many, Temple Beth El is truly their family in southwest Florida.

Click here to support Temple Beth El’s hurricane relief efforts.