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My Machberes

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.

Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis, Nikolsburger Rebbe, salvaging a sefer Torah from a flooded Belle Harbor shul basement.

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.

Long Beach

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.

Staten Island

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

Boro Park emerged relatively unscathed from the brutal force of Hurricane Sandy. Several trees were uprooted, damaging cars and blocking thoroughfares.

Kiryas Yoel

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.

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