Sandy-Hit Shuls Apply for Aid Despite Ban

FEMA Barred From Helping Houses of Worship for Now

Separation of Sandy and Shul: The superstorm did massive damage to synagogues including this one on Long Island. Shuls are being told to apply for federal aid, even though FEMA rules now explicitly bar assistance to religious organizations.
courtesy of temple israel of long beach
Separation of Sandy and Shul: The superstorm did massive damage to synagogues including this one on Long Island. Shuls are being told to apply for federal aid, even though FEMA rules now explicitly bar assistance to religious organizations.

By Seth Berkman

Published December 02, 2012, issue of December 07, 2012.
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Ira Grossman, FEMA’s team leader for Jewish community outreach for Hurricane Sandy, said synagogues should also apply for aid from the Small Business Administration. The two agencies have separate applications, but the FEMA application must be filed first, he said, as the SBA application requires a FEMA registration number.

Not every damaged synagogue intended to apply for federal aid or knew exactly what the deadlines and parameters of the application were.

“Some community members are doing some research about FEMA for us,” said Shula Winner, co-director of Chabad Synagogue of Manhattan Beach, in Brooklyn. “We want to apply, but there’s no guarantees for anything.” Winner said she had not yet been in contact with UJA-Federation for guidance on applying.

Rabbi Marjorie Slome of West End Temple, which is located in the Queens neighborhood of Neponsit in the Rockaways, said that with help from the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York she would apply to FEMA for aid.

One Jewish communal official involved in the aid effort noted that the areas damaged most heavily in the hurricane, such as the Rockaways and Brooklyn’s Sea Gate, were homes to “marginal” Jewish populations.

“To a great extent, a lot of the Jewish poor lived in these communities,” said the official, who would speak only if assured of anonymity because he was not authorized as a spokesman on this issue. The synagogues were old, as were many of their members, he said. And many of the old synagogues and homes were not insured against natural disasters.

The makeup of these communities poses an additional problem even if government aid or insurance money is ultimately obtained, the official said: It is unclear how many of the potential recipients are capable of managing substantial reconstruction projects that could involve numerous contractors.

“Can they fix up their own homes, even if they have insurance?” this official asked. “Will their children allow them to go back?”

In New Jersey, where there are 18 Jewish federations, there was no large-scale effort to encourage those synagogues to apply for FEMA aid.

Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken said he is contemplating whether or not to apply for FEMA and that he had received advice from the Network of Independent Communities, an umbrella organization of the Jewish Federations of North America.


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