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Jews assist victims of Perth Amboy fire
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Jews assist victims of Perth Amboy fire

Children and adults sort through mounds of gifts, toys, and sports equipment at “the North Pole.”
Children and adults sort through mounds of gifts, toys, and sports equipment at “the North Pole.”

The local Jewish community has rallied around the more than 100 residents of a Perth Amboy condominium and apartment complex left homeless by a fire less than a week before Christmas.

Jewish institutions donated toys, toiletries, clothing, and cash to the residents, after the fire devastated 32 apartments in Perth Amboy’s Harbortown housing complex.

The Jewish Renaissance Foundation organized an event Dec. 23 at which victims received contributed goods and were treated to meals donated by Perth Amboy restaurants. Each of the families affected by the Dec. 19 fire was also given $150-$160.

“It just warms my heart so much that the Jewish community reached out to their neighbors in distress on one of their holidays,” said Alan Goldsmith, president of the foundation, which runs the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center in Perth Amboy.

Rabbi Melinda Zalma of Congregation Beth Mordecai served as an official event host at the medical center, helping with clothing selection and leading families to “the North Pole,” a large room filled with an assortment of toys and games. Both the synagogue and the Harbortown complex are located on High Street. Zalma said Beth Mordecai congregants filled a barrel and at least 10 bags full of donated items, more than enough for the affected families. The remainder is to go to the Salvation Army and other similar organizations.

“We’re always taught to think about others and have compassion for our neighbors,” Zalma said. “We may not have known anybody who lived there, but we are in Perth Amboy and we have an obligation to the city.”

One of the largest donations came from the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison, which was still collecting items two weeks later and sent over another vanload of goods on Jan. 10.

“I can’t even tell you how much we sent,” said Paula Rann, the JCC’s director of fund-raising and member services. “It just kept growing and growing.”

Goldsmith said the Renaissance center was able to put together the gathering on such short notice by sending out messages to its vendors and faith-based partners, including the New York Jets football team and McGuire Air Force Base, which sent a truckload of clothing and toys. Two Marines in full-dress uniform distributed items through its Toys for Tots campaign. Also attending the event two days before Christmas was Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz.

“We got a good ton of clothing and food,” Goldsmith told NJJN. “We decided to also open up the event to the homeless in town. One gentleman told me he just got out of the hospital with frostbite. All he had were open-toed sneakers. He took some shoes and socks and coats and couldn’t stop thanking me.”

Goldsmith said he already has an idea of what to do with the surplus from the huge quantity of donations. As head of one of the two designated community action agencies in Middlesex County providing services to low-income families, he said he wants any unused items — including blankets, bedding, and emergency supplies — designated for use during disasters. He has already entered into discussions with Perth Amboy officials about using a closed firehouse for storage and with Woodbridge officials to arrange for the use of a facility there. The foundation would be the overseeing agency.

Goldsmith said he draws inspiration from the biblical patriarch Abraham and his hospitality to strangers.

“Avraham Avinu was known for his kindness and, no matter what, he opened his doors to anyone,” he said. “I’m very spiritual and I think just as Abraham was tested by the angels who visited him, we are being tested by the Almighty — and I hope we passed.”

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