Thanksgiving morning saw members of Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen hard at work — but not cooking for their families. Janet Kaplan, Hester Skolnick, and the social action committee were overseeing volunteers giving a hand to people whose lives were upended by Superstorm Sandy. Congregants came to the temple to donate turkeys, others were cooking those turkeys in their home ovens, and still others were in the synagogue kitchen preparing 26 large tins of baked ziti.
All morning cars streamed from Beth Ahm to Fire Hose Company #1, the site in Union Beach that had become a haven for area residents in the wake of Sandy as well as those who were attempting to help them put their lives back together.
Union Beach is about three miles from Beth Ahm, on the Raritan Bay side of Route 35. Most of the congregants live on the inland side. While the synagogue and many of its members were without power for more than a week, residents of Union Beach, which is right on the bay, got badly hit. The extreme tides and huge surge destroyed many homes and made others barely habitable.
On the second Shabbat after the storm, when Beth Ahm finally reopened, Rabbi Lisa Malik spoke about tikun olam and pointed out that congregants should not only “repair” their own souls battered by the storm but could also help heal the world — by focusing efforts on Union Beach.
The social action committee realized that FHC #1 was the site of the “Firehouse Grill,” where local people were coming for a hot meal during the crisis. Professional chefs joined other volunteers to provide nutritious fare to people sitting at long tables and sharing their experiences. A playground was put together in a fenced area on the grounds.
Scores of synagogue volunteers came to the fire house, where they helped prep, cleaned pots and pans, served food, and offered smiles to the 500 people at each meal. An informal network of Beth Ahm volunteers channeled information to congregation president Stuart Abraham, who sent out e-mails keeping members abreast of what was needed. Others made anonymous contributions to the multigenerational effort, shepherded by religious school principal Ann Gabel, preschool director Amy Naphtali, and nursery school director Judy Dasaro.
After the emergency passed and the site was disbanded on Nov. 26, the center of recovery activity moved to the Union Beach municipal building, where donated goods, clothing, and cooked food continued to accumulate.
But the Beth Ahm-Union Beach connection will go on as congregants continue to help its residents rebound. According to Abraham, “This experience has brought us closer together. We helped hundreds of people and, in the process, began healing ourselves.”