Gathering in the still heatless social hall at United Synagogue of Hoboken more than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, organizations offered support to hundreds of flood victims from the Jewish community and beyond.
The Jewish Family Service of MetroWest was among the agencies at the Nov. 15 event offering advice to some 75 residents on how to access assistance, financial aid, and counseling in the wake of the storm.
Hoboken was particularly hard-hit by a storm surge that flooded basement apartments, displaced residents, and left the area without power for weeks.
The synagogue’s new boiler was destroyed after water gushed into the emergency stairwell and elevator shaft.
JFS of MetroWest provides a range of services to Hoboken residents through its Jersey City office, including therapy, case management for seniors, and a kosher nutrition program.
“JFS is here first and foremost to provide emotional support and counseling services for those who are most affected by the storm, but also to connect people with available resources from FEMA and other governmental options,” Reuben Rotman, JFS executive director, told NJJN. “If there are questions about insurance or other issues, we want to give them guidance on how to make decisions.”
Also taking part in the dinner and info fair were representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the national movement’s national congregational body.
“The Jewish community is very resilient and pulling together and aware that a lot of people suffered a lot more. We are asking, ‘What can we do to help?’” said Kenneth Schept, a past president of the Hoboken congregation.
‘We are here’
One agency in need of major assistance is the city’s 30-year-old interfaith food bank, run by In Jesus’ Name Charities. It had been serving some 1,500 residents among the city’s poor until the hurricane washed away all its supplies.
“The water filled the basement where we had everything,” said its director, April Harris. “We lost 10,000 items of food and clothes, and all of my records. My clients couldn’t turn to me at all during this crisis.”
Harris is now seeking to replenish the food pantry at Our Lady of Grace Church on Willow Avenue. Beyond food, clothes, and financial help, “we need volunteers and good will and love,” she said before the meeting.
Within a day of the Nov. 15 meeting such volunteers were stepping up, Schept told NJJN in a Nov. 18 phone call. One synagogue member visited the church to measure its walls so that other volunteers could help him build new shelving.
Before the meeting, several people told NJJN of the losses they had incurred as a result of Sandy.
Robert Foreman owns a converted firehouse that lost two of its four apartments. Three feet of water swamped the wood shop where he earns part of his livelihood making picture frames.
“This is our second hurricane in two years. It is the new normal,” he said. “We can expect this to happen again. We lost our cars. We lost our income. I had to borrow money, but hopefully I will get some insurance money eventually.”
Daniel Dunn, a congregation member from Jersey City, said the retaining walls outside his condominium failed.
“So we decided to evacuate in the middle of the storm and seek higher places several blocks away from us. As my wife wrote on Facebook, ‘It was the most scary day of our lives.’ But I would say we were very lucky.”
Serving dinner in the synagogue were four members of the Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph — Madeleine Pasteelnick, Leah Gruss, Lou Gruss, and Lew Schwarz — who travelled 40 miles to support their neighbors in distress. The meal was paid for by the USCJ.
Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the Hoboken congregation welcomed the group and the outpouring of support.
Edward Finkel, northeast region director of the Network of Independent Communities of the JFNA, told NJJN, “For most of us, the experience of Hurricane Sandy has been a terrifying episode, and yet it reminds us what we have to be grateful for, including the presence of support and generosity from family and friends and community.”
“We are here for them. We want to provide a sense they are not alone and to help marshal the resources that will put them on the road to recovery,” he said.