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Relief: Irene leaves more hassle than heartbreak (MetroWest)
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Relief: Irene leaves more hassle than heartbreak (MetroWest)

After storm, rabbis, congregations ponder what could have been

A tree toppled by high winds crashed through the roof of the Nadison home in Montclair, landing on a couch where the family spends much tine sitting together. Photo by Liz George (baristanet.com/2011/08/hurricane-irene-slams)
A tree toppled by high winds crashed through the roof of the Nadison home in Montclair, landing on a couch where the family spends much tine sitting together. Photo by Liz George (baristanet.com/2011/08/hurricane-irene-slams)

Even though a tree crashed through the roof of their Montclair home and onto the living room sofa, Jill Nadison considers her family lucky.

“We are fine. Nobody got hurt,” she told NJ Jewish News over the din of construction workers’ power tools the morning after Hurricane Irene ripped through the region.

Her family had just finished eating and she was washing dishes while her husband, Scott, and six children — their three kids and neighborhood friends — had gone down to the basement to play.

“The crazy thing is, that is where my family lives, on that couch, exactly where the tree came down,” she said. “We literally spend all of our time there, all five of us squished together. We are lucky. The kids were shaken up, but they’re fine. It could have been much, much worse.”

As the cleanup effort began late Sunday and the East Coast began to return to some semblance of normalcy on Monday, synagogues began to assess the damage from the storm and, in many cases, count their blessings. While some 40 deaths in 10 states were attributed to Irene, no synagogues reported much damage except for power outages and some minor flooding.

Like the Nadisons, who are members of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield and are currently staying with friends, at least one family at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield had to find shelter at another congregant’s home, and another’s car was severely damaged by a fallen tree, according to Rabbi Mark Mallach.

Another family elected to postpone a Saturday bat mitzva until Monday afternoon, and Sunday’s morning minyan and a wedding scheduled for that afternoon had to be cancelled, he reported.

A day after Hurricane Irene left town, Rabbi Ronald Kaplan was not able to reach his synagogue, Temple Beth Am, in the badly damaged town of Parsippany.

“On Sunday we had an open house and a brunch for prospective parents at our religious school, but we had to cancel it,” he said. “Fortunately I did not have any funerals or weddings scheduled. I empathize with colleagues who had to do weddings. A simha can wait. But in the case of endangering a life, you can delay it indefinitely.”

The synagogue itself was not damaged.

Saving lives was also part of the pre-storm preparations at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange, where Rabbis Eliezer Zwickler and Michael Bleicher borrowed from warnings prepared by Kenneth Brander, rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue.

The AABJ&D religious leaders e-mailed to congregants Brander’s list of “do’s and don’ts” for observant Jews who don’t turn lights on and off or use electronic devices on Shabbat.

“They told us to put on a radio in advance and leave it on in a back room,” said congregant Sharon Zughaft, who lives a few blocks from the synagogue. “They said you can listen to it whenever you need to because it could be a matter of life and death. You can change the volume. You can make it lower if it is bothering people or make it higher if you can’t hear.”

Brander’s memo also suggested lighting candles and flashlights throughout a house before Shabbat and “when necessary” a non-Jew would be permitted to relight a candle or replace a dead battery.

One of Zughaft’s sons had been invited to a bat mitzva party at a hotel in Belmar, one of the most severely stricken towns on the Jersey shore. Those plans were cancelled.

“‘We did not invite Irene, but she came anyway,’” the girl’s mother told Zughaft.

Divine providence?

The impending hurricane gave Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz much to talk about in his Friday night sermon at the Lubavitch Center of Essex County in West Orange.

“To open my sermon I said, ‘We are all preparing ourselves, setting up, arranging, planning, getting ready for the upcoming month of Elul when we ask God to forgive us for our misdeeds of the past and bless us for the coming year.’ Of course I was referencing the hurricane,” he wrote NJJN in an e-mail.

Although many of Rabbi Amy Small’s congregants at Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit were without power and dealing with flooding after the storm, the Reconstructionist leader found strength while conducting Shabbat services.

“We left the fixation on the approaching storm outside our doors; inside we felt comfort, joy, peace, and faith,” Small wrote on her blog, www.raviva.org. “We knew that if the storm brought harm, we would help each other, and we would get through it together.”

For Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic of Congregation Ahavath Zion in Maplewood, the hurricane, like last Tuesday’s earthquake, brought a theological message.

“Jewish thought does not believe in haphazard natural phenomena; it rather believes in detailed divine providence guiding the steps of man, especially, and every detail of the natural process — especially that which touches human lives,” he wrote in an e-mail to NJJN.

“Hence there is much more to an earthquake than a fault underground — it probably is more connected to human faults and sins — and much more to a hurricane than merely haphazard weather patterns.”

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