When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey on Oct. 29, shore communities like Cape May, Point Pleasant, and Mantoloking were among the hardest hit. Virtually everyone lost power, some for several hours, some for two or more weeks.
Trees fell, cars overturned, and houses were moved off their foundations.
In hard-hit Monmouth County, Jewish institutions were able to quickly mobilize a response — initially opening synagogue buildings and other facilities to those in need of a safe, dry haven. Where generators were available, cell phone charging stations were set up. When possible, volunteers served meals and hot beverages.
As short-term relief gave way to long-term needs, synagogues and Jewish organizations began coordinating collections of food, clothing, personal grooming necessities, linens, and more.
Keith Krivitzky, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, announced an aid strategy that would include Shabbat meal-in-a-box packages and a temporary expansion of the Kosher Meals-on-Wheels program run by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County.
“Anyone who is over the age of 60 and who needs some help getting healthy meals — who have trouble traveling to the store or are living on a fixed income and need help augmenting their food budget — can contact JF&CS and sign up to receive meals on a temporary basis over the next few weeks and months,” said Krivitzky.
(Applicants for this type of aid were urged to contact Joann Glassoff at JGlassoff@JFCSMonmouth.org or call 732-774-6886, ext. 40.)
On Nov. 15, the federation mounted its first hurricane “help fair.” At the three-hour program, held at Marlboro Jewish Center, those in need learned about no-cost and low-cost services, financial assistance, counseling, and expanded eligibility for kosher meals. Free Shabbat/pre-Thanksgiving goodie bags filled with non-perishables and other useful items were distributed.
Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls — with a host of congregational partners — has launched Save the Jersey Shore: One Town at a Time Gift Card Drive. Rabbi Michelle Pearlman said the effort, which will run through Jan. 1, in addition to benefiting members of MRT who have sustained losses, “will also focus on helping the residents of one devastated shore town at a time, beginning with Sea Bright.”
Gift cards are being collected from Target, Kmart, Home Depot, and Lowes in increments of $25 for distribution.
In addition to congregations as far away as Maine and Georgia, partners in the effort are local synagogues Congregation Torat El in Ocean and Temple Beth Miriam in Elberon. Information on the four ways to contribute is on the Facebook page “Card Work Pays Off.”
At Chabad of Western Monmouth County, the outreach began almost as soon as Sandy’s winds died down.
“Within a few days,” said Rabbi Levi Wolosow, “we were able to obtain three generators from the Pantano Nursery and Landscape Supply business located in Manalapan. We sent one of the generators from home to home to help our members pump floodwaters out of their basements. The other two we kept at the Chabad House, where we used them to keep our refrigerator and freezer working, as well as to enable us to charge mobile phones.”
As early as Thursday morning, Nov. 1, just days after the storm, Chabad of WMC was able to host the first of two bar mitzva ceremonies scheduled for that week (the other was on Saturday, Nov. 3). Wolosow told NJJN, “Both families feared they would have to cancel, but we connected with Park East Caterers of Manhattan, and they came through for us.”
Children’s art programs also went on as planned that Sunday and Thursday.
In an e-mail, Evelyn Fabrikant, a member of their community, praised Wolosow and Rabbi Boruch Chazanow, as well as the Chabad staff, for “bringing light where there was darkness, warmth where there was cold, and family where there was solitude.”
Rabbi Harry Levin, who lives in Rumson and until recently led the non-traditional Open Synagogue from his home, told a harrowing tale of walking on the ground floor of his house and feeling the floor rise and fall beneath his feet. Floodwaters in the basement had reached the ceiling and threatened to push up into the main body of the structure.
Days later, when interviewed by NJJN, Levin was able to joke, “I realized I wasn’t the first rabbi to walk on water.”
Levin remained in the house, and, even though he had no power, began to counsel people in his area. “As a rabbi, I was trained to handle a crisis, and I see this as a teaching opportunity,” he said. “We are now going to have to rebuild — tikun olam — and this is a centerpiece of Jewish principles.”
Levin had to deal with a personal crisis at the same time he was coping with the storm. “My father was in a hospital in Teaneck, and I drove up at night, through the hurricane, to be with him.” Miraculously, he reported, “I encountered no traffic, no accidents, no downed wires, no problems on my ride, despite the severity of the weather.”
The power was out at JF&CS’s main office in Asbury Park and it had to close down for a full week. The Morganville satellite office was able to open one day earlier, but the other satellite, in Eatontown, still had not begun to operate after eight days of forced darkness.
Nevertheless, JF&CS executive director Paul Freedman told NJJN, there had been plenty of advance notice about Sandy, and the JF&CS staff was able to get ahead of the curve.
“One of our most critical services is Kosher Meals-on-Wheels. On a normal day, we deliver about 80 meals throughout the county,” he said. “Knowing that the storm was on its way, we pre-delivered at least three days’ worth of meals before it arrived. And we supplemented the meals with emergency dry food supplies.”
Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth in Marlboro also experienced a long closing. After eight days of no school, the administration was prepared to move toward an emergency plan, which would have called for some classes to be moved to Marlboro Jewish Center and others to Freehold Jewish Center. And then, said an SSDS spokesperson, “The lights came back on.”
Even before the recovery of power, the Schechter school had done its best to make productive use of daylight hours. “The power inside the students, parents, and staff is blasting at full steam,” quipped head of school Yoti Yarhi. The school conducted a “For the Kids” drive to collect necessities for children affected by the storm. “To think that there are children in our community who have lost everything is overwhelming,” said Yarhi. “We hope by distributing familiar toys, books, and school supplies, the children will begin to feel a sense of comfort as they try to put their lives back together.”
About 20 SSDS students and alumni, as well as teachers and staff, participated in the effort.