Hurricane Sandy And Frum Communities
The fury Hurricane Sandy unleashed on the Northeast severely impacted many communities throughout the greater New York City metropolitan area, leaving in its wake fatalities, injuries and destruction. Homes were destroyed or flooded and the loss of electrical power crippled whole neighborhoods.
The Rockaways, Bayswater, and Belle Harbor
The Rockaways, Bayswater and Belle Harbor were flooded by the tidal water overruns that came simultaneously from the beach and the bay. Every home, many of them were by large observant families, was damaged. Every basement was flooded. Extensive libraries of Jewish holy books were waterlogged and destroyed. The buildings of the Yeshiva of Belle Harbor were devastated.
Entire shuls were flooded. At least 17 sifrei Torah were ruined. Tears flowed copiously when volunteer salvage organizations, such as the Matzileh Aish volunteer firefighters of Kiryas Yoel, approached the shuls and saw more than one upended aron kodesh with sifrei Torah floating in water.
The loss of electrical power, combined with the extreme gasoline shortage, interfered with salvage efforts. Without power, pumping water out of basements becomes a Herculean task. Gasoline generators, with limited fuel, have to be used. Dredging efforts were deployed to remove mountains of sand from buried homes and clogged streets.
Hatzolah, Shomrim, Chaverim, and many other organizations from all areas joined to help. Bikur cholim and hachnassas orchim organizations heroically provided warm meals, new clothing, laundry services, and dredging applications. Inflatable boats were used to rescue people trapped in flooded areas. Sometimes the inflated boats themselves had to be rescued. Volunteers worked through the storm twenty-four hours a day.
On Friday, erev Shabbos Vayeira, buses came from as far as Baltimore to transport people to warm homes for Shabbos. On Sunday, November 4, a cold snap descended on the region. Tremendous efforts were expended to move children, including newborns, and their mothers to welcoming homes in areas that had heat. All this was in addition to truckloads of warm clothing, blankets and food collected and brought from other frum neighborhoods. Shabbos meal packages and weekday communal meals were available.
Seagate, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach
Residents of Seagate were equally impacted. Beachfront houses and homes close to the beachfront were washed away. Except for those close to the water, most homes did not have flood insurance since coverage is expensive and the need was not apparent. Every basement was flooded. Mordecai Ben David, the renowned Jewish singer, had a recording studio in his basement with equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars. Water smashed into his basement, destroying everything below shoulder height. A well-known collector of antique sefarim had his entire collection, worth millions of dollars, ruined. Every basement has to be stripped, relined, and rebuilt. The shuls, too, lost sifrei Torah and sefarim.
Words cannot describe the destruction in Long Beach. Ocean Place, the center of the frum neighborhood, was severely impacted, with homes totally destroyed or rendered inaccessible because of flooding. For the first time in its 47-year existence, the sounds of Torah at the Yeshiva of Long Beach were stilled. The yeshiva found temporary quarters elsewhere.
Hurricane Sandy caused untold damage to several areas of Staten Island. The electricity went out Monday at 10:15 p.m., after the last minyan for Maariv at Congregation Agudas Shomre Hadas, 98 Rupert Avenue. Early Tuesday morning, right before the shul’s first early morning shiur, the lights came back on, as they did in most of the frum community.
Boro Park emerged relatively unscathed from the brutal force of Hurricane Sandy. Several trees were uprooted, damaging cars and blocking thoroughfares.
Because of the loss of electricity, many of Kiryas Yoel’s residents left, including those who seldom wander out of the enclave. Satmar families in Boro Park and Williamsburg welcomed them in. Chaverim sought to service those who remained at home. Chaverim members were observed carrying laundry bags all day from homes without power to those with, and then returning with freshly washed laundry. This was in addition to the thousands of packaged meals delivered. Power was restored to most residents on the afternoon of Shabbos Chayei Sarah. Matzileh Aish oversaw the use of generators wherever possible. On Shabbos, non-Jews conducted patrols carrying extra gasoline to fill emptying generator tanks.
Almost all of Monsey lost electricity, though many homes had power restored after Shabbos. All homes in New Square lost electricity. Makeshift generators were able to provide enough light for the sheva berachos celebration of the Squarer Rebbe’s granddaughter that took place in the main beis medrash on Monday evening, the night of the storm. Meals were served in the beis medrash as well as delivered to homes.
Nearly all of Lakewood was plunged into darkness. The National Guard was called in. Beth Medrash Govoha was powered by generators and the learning of Torah went on uninterrupted. The yeshiva’s lunchroom served meals throughout the crisis. Incrementally, power was returned. As of this writing, some parts of Lakewood are still in the dark.
Lower Manhattan was without electricity. The Lower East Side, with its high-rise apartment buildings and elderly population, was especially crippled. No light, no power, no water and no elevators left residents stranded, with many older folks in need of medication and food. Jewish volunteer organizations sprang into action. Many members climbed the dark stairways of one high rise building after another to the top floors and worked their way down to serve the elderly.
Most businesses in Manhattan were closed during the crisis and days thereafter. B&H, the electronics superstore at 9th Avenue and West 34th Street, a wellspring of livelihood for thousands of frum families, was open immediately after the crisis. In addition and most notably, B&H made thousands of electrical outlets freely available outside its establishment for charging cellular phones, giving those stranded without power the ability to communicate with the outside world.
The B&H warehouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was singularly spared flooding and damage.
Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe In New York
Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Cohen, Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe, arrived in New York on Sunday, November 11. The Rebbe was met at the airport by hundreds of chassidim who stood in line to greet him and to kiss his hand in welcome. The large group accompanied the Rebbe to the home of Gedalia Yosef Leib Ausch at 12 Boxwood Lane in Monsey (845-352-0304). The Ausch residence serves as his first headquarters on regular visits.
On Wednesday, the Rebbe was scheduled to move to Williamsburg to be hosted at the home of Satmar’s vice president, Yitzchok Rosenberg, 105 Ross Street, suite 4-R, in Williamsburg (718-387-2184). For Shabbos Toldos, November 16-17, tefillas and tisch will be held at the Rose Castle. On Thursday, November 22, the Rebbe will travel to Lakewood for Shabbos. On Tuesday, November 27, he will come to Boro Park and stay for Shabbos. On Wednesday, December 5, the Rebbe will return to Jerusalem.
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