While the extent of Sandy’s impact on synagogues and Jewish institutions in Middlesex County was impossible to ascertain as of press time, at least one organization was able to finally reopen since the superstorm hit the beginning of last week.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County opened its South River offices on Nov. 2 after power had been restored the previous afternoon.
Since it was still without Internet connection, however, a staff member who still had power left work early to go home and send an e-mail to the community with federation board members, according to federation associate executive director Susan Antman.
At least 80 people in the United States were killed in the one-of-a-kind storm, and more than seven million people in 13 states were without power.
The storm, which washed ashore Oct. 29 just south of Atlantic City, took dead aim at the most populous region of the country, home as well to the majority of the country’s Jews. In its wake, it left a trail of devastation that may take weeks to restore, if not longer.
In a prepared statement, Antman said, “We know many local residents remain without power in Middlesex County. We hope everyone is safe and well. Our prayers are with everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
Area synagogues with power opened their doors to the community and hosted congregations without power for Shabbat, b’nei mitzva, and daily minyans. Some held daily minyans but warned congregants to come dressed warmly and to BYOF — bring your own flashlight.
Among these was Rabbi Shlomo Landau of Torah Links in East Brunswick. He gave his weekly daf yomi class at the Young Israel of East Brunswick by candlelight. Ironically, the topic was “Shabbat candles.” But the organization’s annual gala, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 4, has been postponed. “Simply put, the hotel cannot accommodate us without electricity,” he wrote.
Cantor Eli Perlman of Congregation Beit Shalom in Monroe, which serves approximately 10 senior adult communities in the area, told NJJN Nov. 2 that he had been unable to communicate with his congregants. Shabbat morning services were being canceled, he said, because many members had left the area to stay with family and friends.
East Brunswick, where he lives, looks like “a bomb was dropped on it.” Perlman said he lost three trees in his yard; luckily, they fell on his fence and not on his house.
But some of his neighbors had trees land on their houses and cars, and others had their roofs ripped off by the storm.
In the Monroe communities, he said, “Many of the seniors have had their cell phone batteries die and they don’t have car chargers, so there’s no way I can get in touch with them if they are still here. I’ve tried calling many of them.”
He said Monroe residents were told service would not be restored until Nov. 6; East Brunswick, Nov. 7.
In Somerset, Temple Beth El, which suffered no damage at all, was able to help out congregants and others. “We have offered the use of the building for all who want to charge up their devices” and keep medications refrigerated, wrote Rabbi Eli Garfinkel. “So far, it has been quiet — most of Franklin seems to be powered up now.”
Power was restored to Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen on Oct. 31. That synagogue’s rabbi, Gerald Zelizer, wrote that most of its members were without power and had been coming to the synagogue “to relax in heated buildings, and charge up their phones, iPads, etc.” He added that the daily minyan continues as usual, and weekend activities will go on as planned. Religious school, however, has not met, he wrote, “because the public schools have been closed.”
Chabad.org reported that the Chabad House in South Brunswick had postponed its 10th anniversary celebration on Nov. 1 to focus on relief efforts. “Instead of an event in the East Brunswick Hilton,” said its website, “staff members will be dropping off kosher food around town to those who need it.”
Volunteers with the Rabbinical College of America-Chabad Headquarters of New Jersey and its Rutgers Jewish Outreach division distributed kosher meals to students evacuated from their blacked-out dormitories in New Brunswick. In Monroe, Chanie Zaklikovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center delivered kosher meals at a local senior center, Chabad.org reported.
Elsewhere in the state, after part of the roof of White Meadow Temple was blown off, rain soaked the sanctuary pews, including many books. Several trees are down on the property, and, as of Nov. 1, the power was still out.
And yet, Rabbi Benjamin Adler told his Facebook friends, the “Torah scrolls are okay and no one is hurt, thank God.”
The Rockaway Township synagogue was among the hardest hit of congregations in the northern part of the state in the wake of Sandy. Many lost power, but most suffered no or very little damage, and nearly all synagogues persevered, despite their lack of power.
Nearly all were relieved that one of the most destructive storms in recent memory largely spared lives in New Jersey.
And though his synagogue is “down the shore,” Rabbi Cy Stanway of Temple Beth Miriam in Elberon told NJJN that the synagogue had, fortunately, suffered no damage.
But there was no power in the building, as of Friday, and all operations, including Shabbat services, had been canceled.
However, unlike many of his congregants, Stanway had power in his home, which he had opened to several member families and their children, including Cantor Marnie Camhi and her family. He and his wife were welcoming into their home any congregants who wanted to charge phones or other electric devices or “just need a little rescue for a few hours.”
“We are even rescuing people’s food,” he said, “including a carload of kosher meat belonging to one of our congregants.”
However, he had ventured closer to the beach in Elberon and “some of the houses there are gone; they’re decimated.” On Nov. 2, the Stanways were hosting a potluck Shabbat dinner in their home for everyone in the congregation. Then, the rabbi said, “we will light a bonfire and go outside in the yard and make the best of a bad situation.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County has established a Hurricane Sandy relief fund; to donate, send checks to JFGMC, 230 Old Bridge Tpke., South River, NJ 08882, and write “Hurricane Sandy” in the subject line or visit Jewishmiddlesex.org.
The Jewish Federations of North America (jfeds.org/SandyRelief) was among the many Jewish organizations that set up relief funds in the wake of the storm.