Little Shul Makes Big Impact After Sandy

Jersey Shore Synagogue Plays Huge Role in Recovery Effort

Small Shul, Big Impact: Volunteers at Congregation B’nai Israel help pack clothing for distribution to families who lost everything in Sandy.
getty images
Small Shul, Big Impact: Volunteers at Congregation B’nai Israel help pack clothing for distribution to families who lost everything in Sandy.

By Seth Berkman

Published November 23, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

As New Jersey’s shore residents struggle to rebuild destroyed homes and lives after Hurricane Sandy, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields has seen a peculiar aspect of the crisis firsthand: Her tiny congregation has only grown in influence as the long-term impact of the storm’s destructive force deepens.

Wolintz-Fields, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel here, presides over one of many small Jewish communities that dot the shore. For years they have served as modest redoubts of communal and spiritual sustenance to a reliable core of congregants. But in the wake of the storm, Wolintz-Fields’s congregation, like others in the area, has seen attendance at services jump, along with levels of involvement in the synagogue’s life.

The 327-member congregation has furthermore formed new relationships with the larger community outside the synagogue’s walls, extending its reach beyond its small numbers in a new way.

“We opened up our synagogue for anyone in the community who didn’t have any heat or electricity, food or a warm space, or just [people who needed] to charge devices,” Wolintz-Fields said. “I honestly feel whoever needs the help at this point, we don’t care who we were taking care of. We just wanted to take care of people.”

B’nai Israel itself didn’t incur any flooding or structural damage during the storm, and retained electricity in the following days. Those fortunate circumstances, Wolintz-Fields said, allowed her synagogue to immediately set up a call center to provide updated relief information to affected families. Congregants quickly volunteered to travel door to door to check on elderly residents from the congregation and to update out-of-state family members on the condition of those stranded. B’nai Israel’s president, Philip Brilliant, said it was imperative that he know the condition of each of the congregation’s families. The severity of some families’ situations wasn’t revealed until those families showed up for services.

Brilliant said that at the first Friday night service after the storm, it was easy to tell which attendees did not have heat or even habitable homes. “They were all bundled up,” said Brilliant, who noticed both new faces and ones he hadn’t seen in a while. “After services, other congregants took them home, to warm homes with power. They know them maybe three days out of the year, but didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Brilliant, who didn’t have power in his own home for 16 days after the storm, said other congregants have also taken in non-Jews who have lost houses. “I would say there’s no line of religion in this situation,” he said. “Some they know from business relationships. Whether business, friendships, religion, it’s all blending in to help out.”


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!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • 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.