Thursday, November 8, 2012

Shelter From the Storm

May you live in interesting times, goes the well-known “blessing” whose darker meaning is actually: “may you live in difficult times.” Though often referred to as “the Chinese Curse,” it always struck me as Yiddish in essence.

Those of us who reside in the region of the country affected by Hurricane Sandy last week and yesterday’s Nor’easter have just gotten a super-sized dose of “interesting times,” with death and devastation on one end of the spectrum and discomfort and disruption of our normal lives on the other hand.

And tucked between the bookends of Mother Nature’s fury was a presidential election that revealed how truly divided American society is at this point in time.

We are blessed with living in interesting times, indeed.

Yet, as I drove back to my New Jersey home last night through snow, sleet and freezing rain (worrying about Sandy’s victims and refugees in light of the plummeting temperatures and my own newly-restored power lines in danger of crashing for the second time in a week) I drew comfort from the heroic work being done by the staff and kehillot of United Synagogue who have joined the relief effort spearheaded by emergency personnel and relief organizations, both governmental and private, national and regional.

The Dix Hills Jewish Center (Dix Hills, New York)
davened ma'ariv by flashlight in the absence of power.

Within hours after Sandy’s devastating effects were known, our Kehilla Relationship Managers and district leaders reached out to USCJ kehillot in hurricane-affected areas. While most of these kehillot lost power, thankfully most suffered no damage to their facilities; still there are some kehillot that sustained very severe flooding and other damage.

Additionally, in the communities of our kehillot, untold numbers of people remain without power, including heat and hot water.  Tens of thousands are now homeless because their houses are either uninhabitable or completely destroyed. On a personal note, my sister and her family – which includes her elderly in-laws – have endured nearly two weeks without power or heat in their Great Neck, LI homes.

Springing into action, United Synagogue took the following steps:
·        We created a Disaster Relief Fund. The monies collected will go toward 1) providing modest grants to kehillot for immediate needs that can’t wait for insurance reimbursements; 2) disaster relief groups directly helping people recover and rebuild and 3) in several months, helping kehillot cover expenses they incur that are not covered by insurance or other funds.
·        To date, USCJ has made a grant of $10,000 to Nechama, a Jewish disaster relief group now working in the storm zone, and a modest grant for a laptop computer to Temple Beth El of Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, which lost all its office equipment due to flooding. We are also working closely with United Synagogue of Hoboken (NJ) to make sure it has heat for two b’nai mitzvah to be celebrated this Shabbat.
·        Because they have canvassed so many synagogues, our staff and lay leaders are making connections among kehillot so that those not affected by the storm can assist those who were.  They are also connecting kehillot with agencies that offer disaster relief.

One important take-away from the past week’s activities is that advance planning goes a long way. Rabbi Paul Drazen, United Synagogue’s special assistant to the CEO, has spent the better part of the past eight months planning safety and security guidelines for our organization and our kehillot and that work was critical to our ability to mobilize for this disaster.

Another source of invaluable information on coping with disasters comes from our Torah, in particular the current weekly portions, which detail the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, whose tent was open on all four sides. On a personal note, my family and I have relied on the open tents of friends and neighbors over the past week. I encourage everyone with power and heat to emulate Abraham and Sarah’s model of hachnasat orchim and open their homes to those who are rendered homeless by the extreme weather we are suffering.

The antidote for living through interesting times is the outpouring of caring and fellowship from individuals, organizations and kehillot throughout the world. During this crisis, I could not be more proud that the USCJ synagogues have lived up to their mission as kehillot kedushot -- sacred communities -- embodying the many meanings of sanctuary.
Here are Some Additional Suggestions for Helping Out:
·        Donate to United Synagogue’s Disaster Relief Fund so we can continue to help kehillot and communities trying to recover and rebuild. (If you are Canadian and need a tax receipt, send a check to United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1000 Finch Avenue West, Suite 508, Toronto, ON M3J 2V5.)
·        Donate to relief organizations (see a list below) or contact local groups to see what they need. Before you collect anything, contact a relief agency to find out what they need and only bring those items.
·        Contact a neighboring kehilla and ask how you can help, or contact your Kehilla Relationship Manager to find out who needs help.

If You Need Help or Want to Donate/Volunteer
FEMA (for smartphones/mobile devices)
1-800-621-FEMA (3362)

Legal Help

USCJ Disaster Relief Fund

Jewish Federations of North America

Nechama (To Donate or Volunteer)
Nechama is a Jewish disaster relief organization that provides on-the-ground help. Currently, Nechama is working at three sites in Hoboken, NJ, including United Synagogue of Hoboken.

If you have not done so, please contact your Kehilla Relationship Manager to let him or her know how you’re doing. They will work to connect you with help. You can find contact info for the KRMs here.

1 comment:

  1. very informative read. When the time comes, will USCJ be involved in any rebuilding efforts? I was raised on Staten Island and much of the devastation is walking distance from my parents home. I would like to be part of a rebuilding mission in the spring and summer, when the time comes to rebuild.