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Sandy’s Wrath Spurs Comprehensive Jewish Community Response

As Shabbat approached on Nov. 2, the UJA Federation of New York distributed more than 800 challot to people hurt by the storm. By Shabbat eve, many Chabad centers had reopened their facilities; some organized virtual bake-a-thons to produce challot – even when power was out – and many organized Shabbat meals.

In Freehold, a town on the hard-hit New Jersey shore, Rabbi Avrohom Bernstein invited people to share a Friday night meal – even without electricity.

“It’s a very meaningful time, because people really put things into perspective,” he told Chabad.org. “There are things that we take for granted so many times.” Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of the Chabad Jewish center of Monroe, N.J., distributed self-heating kosher meals to Jewish college students in area shelters.

“We’re trying to get hot soup as well,” said Rabbi Zaklikovsky. “Our spirit is strong. The damage is great, but we’re trying to move on.”

Other communities also felt the affects of the hurricane on Shabbat – because they hosted many refugees. At Congregation Etz Chaim of Flatbush, Rabbi Shmuel Friedler welcomed all the guests who had to leave their homes, which, according to one observer, made up more than 50 percent of the congregation.

The JCC in Manhattan prepared meals for more than 1,000 people in shelters at John Jay College and at George Washington High School. Water, blankets, clothing, and toys were given to more than 600 people.

Aileen Gitelson, CEO of JASA (Jewish Agency for Services to the Aged), told JNS.org that the agency staff “has gone above and beyond the call of duty to assure the provisions are made for seniors in New York City.”

JASA provides 650,000 meals a year. Gitelson said its meals program is now back in full force, as all 18 senior centers its serves have been reopened and only one of its Far Rockaway buildings was without power as of Sunday, Nov. 4.

Volunteers assess the damage in Sea Gate, Brooklyn.

“Despite being urged to evacuate, perhaps 30 to 40 percent of the residents remained in their homes, even in the dark,” Gitelson said. “Everyone was visited or called; everyone is safe.”

Peter Brick, chief operating officer of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (“Met Council”) in New York, told JNS.org that a major food depot used to service the Met Council client’s needs had flooded, but assured that Met Council and UJA are working together to get food and water to thousands of Jews who were or are still without power, heat, or elevator service.

“The network of volunteers and staff is tremendous,” Brick said. “We are working with [the] Hatzolah [emergency medical team], going door to door, to make sure all the seniors are okay.”

The URJ is working with 180 congregations from affected areas, Freelander (its senior vice president) said, dealing with challenges such as finding alternative sites for services and religious school classes. The point is “for our member congregations to know that they’re never alone,” he said.

Additionally, URJ’s Disaster Relief Fund is contributing to recovery efforts for both Jews and non-Jews. UJA of New York, JFNA, Chabad, and the National Council of Young Israel, among other groups, also set up relief funds.

Jewish communities outside the tri-state area have also geared up to help. One example is Silver Spring, Md., where an ad hoc Greater Washingon Relief Committee has decided to “twin” with a devastated community in the tri-state area, and also will put on a relief concert.

A Lakewood resident set up a Sandy Shabbos relief website (www.lakewoodsandy.com) so that families in Lakewood can share their houses with those who have been displaced. And one day after the storm, a group of organizations from Baltimore (Chesed Fund, Northern Park Heights Community Emergency Response Team, Baltimore’s Hatzalah, Shomrim and Chaverim) sent four large rented trucks filled with generators, lanterns, sump pumps, dry ice, batteries, and radios to a very dark and desolate Far Rockaway.

Several days later, four more trucks were on their way, this time filled with new and gently used clothing, linens, toiletries, and other necessities. They also brought over 400 assorted gas cans and a dozen more generators.

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