‘Caring community’ tempers big storm’s impact

‘Caring community’ tempers big storm’s impact

Rabbi Shlomo Landau of Torah Links in East Brunswick giving his weekly daf yomi class by candlelight — ironically, the topic was “Shabbat candles” — at the Young Israel of East Brunswick.
Rabbi Shlomo Landau of Torah Links in East Brunswick giving his weekly daf yomi class by candlelight — ironically, the topic was “Shabbat candles” — at the Young Israel of East Brunswick.

Hurricane Sandy’s wrath may have temporarily complicated life for residents of the Princeton Mercer Bucks community, but it did nothing to impair services to members of many area organizations and congregations.

Power outages forced the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks to cancel its 2013 Campaign Kick-off Dinner scheduled for Nov. 4, but executive director Andrew Frank and the federation’s employees did their jobs using remote access, working with the organization’s partner agencies to help ensure the delivery of food and supplies and other assistance to those in need.

“We were without power the entire week of the storm,” Frank said. “We’re currently re-grouping and determining new plans going forward, which will be announced soon.”

During the power outage, Frank said, it was evident “we have a very giving and caring community, and when things get tough, the power of community is even tougher.”

Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor lost power for a full week. While nighttime services during the week were canceled because there was no electricity, synagogue leaders tapped other power sources for other events. “We utilized natural lighting for morning services and a bat mitzva, and used lanterns, flashlights, and glow sticks wherever else possible,” said Rabbi Jay Kornsgold.

The First Presbyterian Church of Dutch Neck in Princeton Junction opened its doors so that nearby Congregation Beth Chaim, in the throes of a power loss, could conduct a b’nei mitzva service for congregants Sam Cohen and Rachel Martin.

Elsewhere, community leaders had nothing but praise for the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, which was on the job even before the storm hit. Staffers called area seniors on Friday “making sure they had enough food, checking to see that they had flashlights and batteries,” said JF&CS executive director Linda Meisel, and reminding them to charge their cell phones. JF&CS also delivered bags of food to some of the most vulnerable seniors.

When the storm knocked out their power — and phone service with it — at the height of the storm, said Meisel, “we had all the calls remotely transferred as e-mails to personal cell phones,” and staff members responded to all calls.

By using the available technology, she said, “We were able to reach our seniors or their emergency contacts to make sure they were all OK.”

Though they remained without power through Nov. 7, the JF&CS food pantry was opened on Nov. 2 and has been providing food daily.

The organization’s roughly 25 staffers, though many of them had no power at home, continued to serve clients by phone and door-to-door, contacting seniors, Holocaust survivors, and families in need.

JF&CS staff members also made and delivered emergency packages, making sure, said Meisel, that “all our Kosher Meals-on-Wheels and Kosher Cafe patrons had food.”

Last year, the agency completed training for continuity after a disaster and developed a plan for catastrophic events like the superstorm. “When Sandy hit, we just followed the plan to make sure clients were okay,” Meisel said.

Rabbi Adam Feldman of The Jewish Center in Princeton and Cantor Art Katlin of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville reported power outages of one to three days at their buildings. Both used the phone and electronic devices to reach out to members, especially the elderly.

“It was ‘back to basics’ for us, using cell phones, laptops, personal e-mail accounts, and smart phones to make it work,” Katlin said.

According to Feldman, “I texted as many people as I could and drove out to some seniors personally to check on them. We also elected to go ahead and conduct a scheduled bar and bat mitzva ceremony as planned during our outage. We believe it was a great lesson for our young people to learn first-hand. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, but you deal with them as a community.”

Power outages forced the closure of Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley, Pa., for three days; the school re-opened on Nov. 1.

“We were fortunate in that there was no damage to our building,” said Dale Sattin, the school’s director of development & communications, “and that we got our power back as soon as we did, as power to much of the rest of the town was out until that weekend.

“Once we opened, we contacted all the parents and invited them to come to the school to warm up and recharge their phones and laptops, and a bunch did; we also offered them coffee, hot chocolate, and muffins from the cafeteria,” she said. “We’re happy we could be open during the crisis and provide that special service to our community.”

Greenwood House, a nursing, rehabilitation, and assisted-living facility in Ewing Township that is home to over 160 seniors, lost power for two days, but, said executive director Richard Goldstein, “being a medical facility, we’re very prepared for disasters.” The home’s generator was able to restore some power.

“The conditions have been challenging,” said Goldstein, “but our staff is amazing. Many of them slept over on the Monday and Tuesday nights of the storm in order to be available to others because we didn’t know what to expect.”

Frank visited Greenwood in the days following Sandy and said he was deeply impressed with the dedication of the facility’s staff members. “I spoke to several of the home’s residents,” he said, “and they told me they were enormously grateful for the caring services they received during this devastating storm.”

The Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County is requesting kosher food, ShopRite gift cards, and donations for its clients who have been affected by the storm. The organization can be reached at 609-987-8100 or by calling Linda Meisel’s cell phone at 609-731-6540.

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