Amid the widespread devastation on New Jersey’s Atlantic Ocean shore following Hurricane Sandy, there was a tale of two Jewish towns as they each marked the sabbath.
In Deal, a borough of about 1,000 residents — most of them upper income Syrian Jews — the streets were eerily quiet as the Sabbath approached. Neither the beachfront mansions nor the kosher restaurants on Route 71 had had electricity since the storm four days earlier.
“It’s a ghost town,” said Ana Biton, who sought relief in the Synagogue of Deal because her power remained out. Early estimates had customers waiting more than a week for electricity to be restored.
Twenty miles south in Lakewood, life was vibrant but just as perilous for the close to 100,000 residents, a majority of them ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews. Power was coming back in patches; at Beth Medrash Govoha, one of the largest yeshivas in the world, electricity was on throughout the campus, and the sound of prayer reverberated through classrooms full of students. But two blocks away on Route 9, the main highway through town, stoplights were out and police were directing traffic, making driving dangerous at night.
The differences were products of the vagaries of the relief effort. But in Deal, few were taking their longer wait for relief stoically.
“We want to know why nothing is being done, and when we will see someone who can tell us anything,” said resident Lauren Dadoun, sitting in the Synagogue of Deal, one of the only buildings open in town, thanks to power provided from generators. More than 100 local residents had stopped in at various times since the storm to charge cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices, said Dadoun and others at the synagogue on the night of November 1. People came, too, they said, to regain the slightest sense of community, by talking with their neighbors.
Nearby, Dadoun ’s two-year-old son, Alexander, played with other children, while wearing an oversized pair of winter gloves. Dadoun said at night he needs a nebulizer; without power she was keeping him bundled up in blankets by a fireplace to keep warm in the unheated facility.
Looking at her son, Dadoun lamented, “Today it’s really cold. We’re not sleeping. We’re tired.”
Next door to the synagogue, kosher restaurants and markets were closed, their windows taped up and awnings missing after being blown off by the wind. Biton said she went to a Costco in a neighboring town and customers stood in line for hours to check out. Dadoun recalled how she saw a fist fight erupt over products in a Wegman’s.
When President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie surveyed nearby Shore towns on October 31, two days after Sandy reached the Shore, the polarizing politicians from opposite parties were praised nationally for their unity. Those huddled inside the Synagogue of Deal were less impressed.