Safe from the storm
Jewish community counts its blessings
While Hurricane Irene spread havoc throughout much of New Jersey, area shuls and schools appear to have emerged with relatively little damage.
Among those monitoring the situation is the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which itself lost power Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning.
“Fortunately, we were fine initially,” said David Gad-Harf, chief operating officer, explaining that federation mobilized its staff immediately after the storm, making calls and sending e-mails to all Jewish institutions in the area.
“I’m glad we had power long enough to reach out to a fairly significant number of institutions,” he said. “What we wanted to do is find out what Jewish institutions in northern New Jersey were impacted, how they were affected, and what kind of support and assistance federation could provide. We also wanted to convey that if there were people in desperate situations, they should be referred to Jewish Family Service agencies.”
|Before Hurricane Irene struck, homeowners up and down the East Coast took precautions, including this homeowner in New Jersey. Robert Cumins|
In this effort, federation also utilized social media, sending messages via Facebook and Twitter “to express concern and [urge] that people contact us if anyone was in dire straits and needed urgent help.”
Gad-Harf said his first approach was to area day schools, now preparing for the new school year.
“We were particularly concerned about the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, since the town was flooded,” he said. On Tuesday, he received word that the school’s basement was, in fact, filled with water.
The Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies also reported flooding in its office area, though by Tuesday the water had been removed and was starting to dry out. Also flooded was Ohr Yosef in New Milford, which lost its power as well. It has since been restored.
“In these cases we offered temporary office space in our building until they were back up and running,” said Gad-Harf, “but they concluded they didn’t need it.”
He noted, as well, that according to Elliot Prager, principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, the school initially lost power and internet service but was back to normal on Tuesday.
As part of their outreach efforts, federation professionals contacted synagogues in some 10 areas that experienced flooding. These included Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, Beth Haverim-Shir Shalom in Mahwah, Cong. Beth Tikvah in New Milford, Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes, Temple Beth El in Rutherford, and three congregations in Wayne—Shomrei Torah, Chabad, and Beth Tikvah.
“Thank God, most institutions were spared significant damage,” he said. “Only a few so far have experienced flooding. Several lost electric power, but all of them have had their power restored. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured or lost their home or was thrust into the financial abyss.”
Still, Gad-Harf said Barnert Temple informed him that some of its member families are still without power and could use a generator. Federation will spread the word about that, he said.
He noted also that federation learned on Tuesday that Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood experienced some flooding. Shul administrator Maureen Nassan reported that the synagogue and surrounding area “was pretty much a lake at first, [including] the parking lot, surrounding areas, across the street, and the basement.” The shul did not lose power, however, thanks to its sump pumps.
According to Nancy Perlman, the federation staff member who spoke with Nassan, “Now it’s just smelly and mucky, but the worst is behind them. They’re suggesting people not park in the lot, as it’s still very muddy.”
Gad-Harf said that Jewish agencies, with one exception, fared well.
“JFS of Bergen and North Hudson lost power but they got it back this [Tuesday] morning and they’re back in business,” he said. “But they continued to see clients on Monday even though they had no power.”
JFS agencies also continued to provide Kosher Meals on Wheels. (This reporter can attest, however, that this was no easy task, since many of the usual routes were affected by the flooding and volunteers needed to be particularly creative.)
“I’m so glad we did this,” Gad-Harf said of federation’s outreach effort, “not just to identify the problems that exist but to make people and institutions know that we’re there for them. Almost everyone—to a person—expressed appreciation. Maybe that sends a message to us that people value being part of a larger whole. They needed moral support from the Jewish community.”
The Jewish Standard received news from other sources, as well.
According to Caryn Starr-Gates, president of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood, “Surprisingly enough — and it is surprising — RTBI did not take on any water after the storm this weekend.” Gates, like many other shul presidents and rabbis, also reached out to congregants to see if they needed any help.
In an e-mail with the subject heading “Are you OK?” Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai in Tenafly checked in with members to see how they weathered the storm. Wrote Millstein, “I received one very unfortunate report that a tree crashed through the bedroom of a member. Fortunately, she was up and not in the room at the time.” The rabbi noted that the center of Demarest, near his home, was flooded, joking that “The Demarest Duck Pond is now the Demarest Lake.” He also said that he only had a little water in his own basement.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Ahavath Torah in Englewood, said things seemed to be “okay here.” Some of his congregants lost power, he said, but “other than that, some fallen trees and some flooding, [there was] no damage to the synagogue and, as far as we know, no other congregations.”