A Far Rockaway synagogue president and Young Israel leader delivered an impassioned plea to the New York City Council’s Committee on Finance Thursday to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and allow aid to be given to houses of worship affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Chaim Leibtag, the Chief Operating Officer of the National Council of Young Israel and the President of Congregation Kneseth Israel, said his synagogue opened its doors and pockets to victims of Superstorm Sandy even though Young Israel synagogues were heavily damaged.
“The three-month harangue with FEMA, the state and federal government, and the insurance cartels have placed an unacceptable burden on those private dollars” needed for rebuilding synagogues but used to help others, he said.
“We took two classrooms and gave them to a local pediatrician whose office was decimated. The other rooms were set up as a clothing distribution center and a food pantry…. Our volunteers walked and drove the darkened streets at night as an adjunct to the local 101,” Leibtag explained.
“Our volunteers drove to Connecticut to buy batteries and flashlights that we distributed free of charge. And we drove the neighborhood offering our assistance to the churches and community centers that were not as well organized as we were. One night we loaded over 15 pallets of food to the Baptist church around the corner.”
At the same time, Young Israel synagogues suffered more than 3 million dollars in damage, according to Leibtag.
“While I commend the city for its incredible work, can you imagine the city trying to feed and clothe the myriad of people in need, while at the same time giving them a place to charge their cell phones?” he told the hearing.
“Our houses of worship are built with private dollars,” Leibtag continued. “These private dollars have been decimated by the storm….
“So, do our houses remain unfinished or do our houses of worship lay barren? Government is forcing us to make choices that are totally unnecessary and morally unacceptable. The founding fathers made a distinction between church and state…. They did not make that distinction so that the government of the people and by the people would abandon their citizens in their greatest hour of need, in the one central house that all who chooses can call home.
“Fund us not for our religious practice; fund us for our practice of humanity.”