Sandy Strikes Heart of Jewish Community

Federation and Synagogues Fight To Respond to Disaster

getty images

By JTA

Published October 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Less than a year into her job at North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, N.Y., Rabbi Debbie Bravo sounded remarkably poised as she and her community face one of their most powerful challenges together: Hurricane Sandy.

Bravo’s land line was dead. When she picked up her cell phone Tuesday, she had just returned from the local police station.

“I have a child who takes medication that has to be refrigerated,” she said calmly.

According to figures released by The Long Island Power Authority on Tuesday, more than 930,000 families were without power after Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc Monday night across the northeastern United States. Among those 930,000 are an estimated 139,000 Jewish househoolds.

Hurricane Sandy, which washed ashore Monday evening just south of Atlantic City, N.J., 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.

“I went over to the synagogue a few hours ago, which is right next to a woodsy area,” Bravo said. “Ten plus trees are down, including a huge one down on the front law. Everyone’s saying this is a hundred times worse” than previous natural disasters that hit the island.

The greater New York area, home to the largest population of Jews in North America, took a harsh hit as severe winds and flooding toppled trees, triggered electrical fires and flooded public transportation systems. The result: mass evacuations of apartments and dormitories, widespread school closings and damaged homes and community institutions.

Early Tuesday afternoon, David Weissberg, executive director of the 120-year-old Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., posted a photo of a tree that literally sliced through the roof over the center’s main building.

“We’re looking in the short term how to work around that space and need to assess how long it will take to get that space repaired,” Weissberg said.

“It’s an amazingly precise cut,” he marvelled. “It fell at an angle perfectly perpendicular to the building, which will hopefully make the repair an easier one.”

Jewish communal organizations, whose offices, landlines and in some cases e-mail servers were closed or down on Tuesday, largely set up shop remotely as they set out to formulate a response.

“The concerns of the Jewish Federations movement is focussed on both those in the Jewish community and non-Jewish community as we work with local Jewish federations as well as local, state and federal emergency management personnel to assess the damage and look forward to recovery,” said William Daroff, vice president of public policy and director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America.

Daroff noted that while watching the devastation unfold, social media was a source of comfort. “Compared to visuals from New York and the Long Island coast, having a support structure and literally thousands of friends acquired through Facebook and Twitter helped me feel less alone as my family sat shuttering with gusts of wind at 50 mph.”

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago set up a relief fund Monday night, with The Jewish Federations of North America and Union for Reform Judaism following suit the next afternoon.

For those without power on Long Island, finding alternative to landlines was critical.

“A lot of people are not getting cell phone service at home,” Bravo said. “For one congregant, the only time i could talk to her was when she left her house.”

“Truthfully in my mind, our options are try to use daylight,” she said.

As Bravo attempts to establish and maintain contact with the elderly and other congregants – including two with recent births – she also pondered the next moves for her synagogue’s two b’nai mizvah this weekend, which in all likelihood will be conducted without power.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.