Israelis Stunned by Lack of Help for Sandy Victims

Volunteers Find Little Official Presence in Flood-Ravaged Nabes

****: Israeli volunteers Oriya Barkai, Snani Mymon, and Elya Tzur survey damage in Sea Gate, Brooklyn. They expected to find more government help in Sandy-ravaged sections of New York’s waterfront.
courtesy of ein prat
****: Israeli volunteers Oriya Barkai, Snani Mymon, and Elya Tzur survey damage in Sea Gate, Brooklyn. They expected to find more government help in Sandy-ravaged sections of New York’s waterfront.

By Seth Berkman

Published November 15, 2012, issue of November 23, 2012.
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Borrego said that the sheer scope of destruction wreaked by the storm and the challenges of treacherous roads and gas shortages delayed the Red Cross’s initial reaction. But she said her agency was now immersed in the largest disaster response in the United States in five years.

“We’re gonna be there as long as we’re needed,” she said.

The Israeli group’s trip to New York was arranged by Lynne Galler, an American board member of Ein Prat. Four days after the storm flooded her childhood home in Hewlett Harbor, N.Y, Galler began coordinating with the UJA-Federation of New York to fly academy alumni to the United States. Five days later, the first wave of volunteers arrived from Tel Aviv, via Zurich, amid a nor’easter storm that brought more than a foot of snow to areas around New York. Within hours, the entire group was in Far Rockaway, home to a large population of elderly Polish and Russian Jews, who had been abandoned in high-rise buildings.

In areas where the Red Cross was not present, unaffiliated volunteers began to look toward Ein Prat volunteers for guidance. Delegation member Elyz Tzur, who is the founding CEO of Lev Echad (“One Heart”), a volunteer organization, and has led that group’s civil relief operations during several Israeli conflicts, said he and his colleagues were trained to operate under duress. “Emergencies are when things don’t operate, when people can’t take care of things themselves,” he said. “People need to know when, why and someone to coordinate it.” The Ein Prat members did not place direct blame on FEMA or the Red Cross, but were taken aback at the scale of the devastation.

Shani Lachmish, whose post-army work has focused on serving injured soldiers and bereaved families, recalled an encounter with one of the first victims she met in New York. “I knocked on one door of an elderly woman, an Israeli who came here a few years ago. She was crying. She was on the 11th floor of her building. She couldn’t walk. She only eats kosher. I had nothing to give her. And so we just cried together.”

Mann said that, of all the places where he has provided aid, “this has been a situation that has been the most severe.”

Mann, an economics and sustainability major at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, added, “It’s a reminder of the power of nature and we have to understand and see the differences between that and take that into account for the future. The impact of nature here was larger than I have ever seen. If you look in recent history, the main huge disasters in the world were because of nature. The earth is telling us something. People have to wake up about that.”

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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