A Community Response During Troubled Times

For many of us in New Jersey and New York, the past few weeks have been a challenge.  While my life was disrupted by Hurricane Sandy, it certainly pales in comparison to the tragedy and disruption to the lives of many others.  Loosing power and staying with friends can be an adventure, at least in the beginning days. When it is the 10th day, everyone’s nerves get a little fried.

But the devastation in some beach communities in New Jersey and in New York is such that we haven’t seen in our lifetime. It will take a long time – months, and perhaps years – for many to recover.

There has been much written about disaster response for organizations. What to do in terms of your computer files and business records. But what is done to reach out to congregants in such challenging times is even more important.

I know that after Hurricane Sandy, a number of rabbis in our area attempted to call all of their congregants to see how they were doing. For people who were living in houses with no power and no heat or staying with friends or relatives, such outreach was certainly welcome and reassuring.

Some synagogues made arrangements to have Shabbat Worship services at a neighboring church, or to just go ahead and hold a short early service by flashlight. Bringing together the community at such a time of upheaval is comforting and a sign of normalcy.

The use of social media such as Facebook was another way to reach out and connect with people.  What did we do before social media and cell phones? And what would we have done if Hurricane Sandy took out everyone’s Internet and cell phone service?

But the lives of people in my community have really only been disrupted. Slowly, things are returning to normal. Power, phone, Internet and cable. The trains will not be back for a few weeks, but there are other transportation alternatives.

What about the people who earn an hourly wage and are not paid unless they show up to work? In addition to the loss of power experienced by many of us, not getting paid because you are unable to get to work is a true hardship.

We take so much for granted. Many supermarkets opened soon after the storm. But they were only accepting cash or checks as a form of payment as the connection for the credit card machine was not working. How do people on food stamps – which now is in the form of a credit or debit card and is no longer actual stamps – going to buy food?

But nothing compares to the loss of life, material possessions and devastation experienced by those on the Jersey Shore, in Staten Island and in the Rockaways in Queens, NY.

West End Temple is in Neponsit, NY, in Queens in the Rockaways.  It is a small synagogue with 100 families. Rabbi Marjorie Slome tried to connect with her congregants in any way she could – by telephone, Facebook, email, even driving out there, as far as she was allowed to go. She has rallied her congregants to work together to clean up the synagogue as much as they can.

The needs of the congregants – places to live, clothing, and food – are great.  There is a special fund established by the Union for Reform Judaism to help West End Temple and its congregants.

Bend the Arc – where I work now as the Director of Development – established a special Hurricane Sandy Response Fund to help the people of Newark, NJ.

Both causes are certainly worthy of our support.


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