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On the cutting edge of Sandy relief
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On the cutting edge of Sandy relief

Volunteers dismantle the deck of a destroyed Union Beach home so it can be carted away. 
Volunteers dismantle the deck of a destroyed Union Beach home so it can be carted away. 

More than two months after Hurricane Sandy pounded Monmouth County, the recovery is far from over.

Jewish institutions in the area have responded with a number of efforts that are not merely generous, but creative, effective, and in some instances unexpected.

Since the first week after the October storm subsided, Rabbi Cy Stanway of Temple Beth Miriam in Elberon has lent his personal chainsaw to help members of his congregation prune dangling tree limbs for curbside removal.

“I see it as a mitzvah to help my congregants in any way I could and in this case it meant even going so far as to help them remove branches and limbs.  It was a rabbinic response to the Talmud's mitzvah to 'say little and do much,” 'Stanway told NJJN in a phone interview.

The Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, meanwhile has distributed more than $100,000 in storm relief while coordinating a host of activities though agencies including Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County, Hebrew Free Loan Society of NJ, Sephardic Bikur Holim, and local synagogues and Chabad houses (see box).

Paul Freedman, executive director of JF&CS, said that as of Jan. 7, his agency had helped 81 families by providing payment for bills and gift cards, for a total of $41,000 of assistance.

According to Freedman, stipends distributed by the organization have had a profound effect on recipients like Nancy M., a 19-year-old single woman living alone in a basement apartment in Long Branch. She is a university student who has supported herself for two years following her parents’ divorce.

When the storm flooded her apartment, she lost everything, Freedman said. With the help of JF&CS and a FEMA grant, she was able to continue attending classes and find a place to stay.

Stanley and Ellen G. from Bradley Beach lost their rental housing and car when Sandy struck. Stanley also lost his job after storm damage forced his employer to close down. The couple, with no source of income, has two children, including one with severe physical limitations who needs frequent medical care. JF&CS helped out by paying some of the medical bills that were piling up, said Freedman.

A multi-synagogue gift card drive by Monmouth Reform Temple, cosponsored and supported by the federation, is turning out to be one of the more effective initiatives for helping storm victims. Marilyn Michaels, an MRT member who is involved in managing the fund, said that as of Jan. 8, more than $40,000 had been collected, and more than $20,000 worth of cards had already been distributed.

Many local leaders gave Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, religious leader of the Tinton Falls congregation, the lion’s share of credit for devising the campaign.

Lynn Shapiro, a congregant who was forced to leave her Sea Bright home for a month when it was badly damaged in the storm, said she and Pearlman thought the cards would be popular because they allowed recipients to determine their greatest areas of need — food, clothing, home repair, household goods, and so on. The cards enable purchases at such stores as Home Depot, Lowes, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Other synagogues have joined the effort, and responded readily. “We were looking for something that could be sustained over a long period of time,” said Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun of Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst. “We knew this cleanup was not going to occur in a hurry. The cards keep attracting new donors from as far away as Florida, Georgia, Maine, and Massachusetts as well as Monmouth County itself.”

Another aspect of the gift card program also resonated with Schonbrun. “The folks at Monmouth Reform decided to focus on helping one town at a time. The first one on their list was Sea Bright, and they have since moved on to Union Beach,” he said. “This approach allows the program to have a more visible impact than if the cards were distributed scattershot to all communities up and down the shore.”

Michaels said MRT is now planning “A Musical Kaleidoscope from Opera to Jazz,” to raise funds for Sandy relief on Sunday, Feb. 3 (see sidebar).

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