Tale of Two Jewish Towns on Shore

Lakewood Buzzes Back After Sandy, While Deal Stays in Dark

Storm Split: Sandy struck the entire Jersey Shore hard. But while one Jewish town is sputtering back to life, another still sits in the dark.
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Storm Split: Sandy struck the entire Jersey Shore hard. But while one Jewish town is sputtering back to life, another still sits in the dark.

By Seth Berkman

Published November 05, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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“I want to see him handing out blankets, not flying over in a helicopter,” said Elizabeth Biton, Ana Biton’s daughter, of President Obama. Ana hoped the lack of electricity wouldn’t prevent her from casting her ballot on Election Day. “We want answers,” she said, voicing displeasure at the current administration. “We want to vote. Tuesday has to come.”

Elizabeth Biton’s gripes were focused on Christie. He had in recent days received widespread commendation across party lines. But in Deal, she felt let down by his performance. “Governor Christie promised New Jersey would be under control. We haven’t seen bupkis.”

seth berkman

That same day in Lakewood, public schools remained cancelled, as they had been the entire week. But private yeshiva school students were being bused to classes only three days after the storm. At times, the conditions were dangerous. Aside from downed trees and power lines on the roads, buses were running after sundown, with the only light provided by oncoming cars’ headlights and road flares.

In Lakewood’s downtown hub on Clifton Avenue, on the southern end of the strip, Hispanic-owned bodegas and restaurants had power, while Jewish businesses, located just a few blocks north, largely did not. At His Place, a men’s clothing store, employee Michael Seltzer was frustrated not knowing when his power would return. “We have no idea what’s going on,” Seltzer said, as a few customers perused through racks of ties and suits in the dark. “Everything’s anecdotal.”

But the Lakewood Shop-Rite supermarket was fully operational on Friday, allowing many Jewish customers to buy food for Shabbos meals. Smaller kosher food markets were also operating, but on a limited scale. At Gelbstein’s bakery, down the street from His Place, loaves of challah hadn’t even been stocked in their normal baskets, as customers quickly grabbed two or three loaves at a time, off the same trays they had been delivered in.

At the Synagogue of Deal, no such frenzy was evident. Women and children bundled up in sweatshirts, gloves and scarves amid dropping temperatures outside and no heating inside. Families shared stories of seeing houses in the ocean and not being able to buy diapers, ice or gas. The last was of particular concern; with hundreds of gas stations unable to pump fuel, lines stretched for miles at the few stations in area.

Virtually every pharmacy and market was closed in town. To conserve gas, Ana Biton and others were coordinating carpool trips to stores in neighboring towns in search of supplies. The elder Biton added that she had not seen one police car or municipality officer stop by the synagogue or her house, and that the local power company, Jersey Central Power & Light, was “nowhere to be seen.” She also complained of a lack of response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and recalled, if somewhat faultily, how, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, “everyone got involved.”

“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “This is disgusting.”

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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