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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Rabbi Benjamin Adler of White Meadow Temple, in Rockaway, N.J., said his congregation had not yet applied to FEMA, as he was waiting to hear back on what his insurance would cover and didn’t know what could be covered under FEMA regulations.

The advocates encouraging synagogues to apply were optimistic that legislation could be introduced to allow houses of worship to receive federal funding.

In March 2002, the O.U. worked to get FEMA reconstruction funds for Seattle Hebrew Academy after an earthquake struck the area. According to The Jewish Week of New York, the O.U. also successfully lobbied in 2007 to have the statute that governs FEMA amended to make nonpublic, not-for-profit schools eligible for aid.

“The discussion we’re having is not to change the law,” Diament said. “It’s not about church and state issues, or the impact that Sandy may have wrought on a number of houses of worship, but whether or not they [FEMA] have the ability under their operating statute to make those grants.”

Not every applicant believes FEMA can provide a magic solution for their financial woes, though. Rabbi David Bauman of Temple Israel of Long Beach, in Long Island’s Nassau County, said he felt rushed into having to apply for aid by the December 30 deadline.

“It takes time to understand, to really assess your situation,” he said. “I’m not even sure four weeks after the event we’ll know.

“I’m a novice when it comes to these sorts of issues, but there should be the ability, as time goes on, during the next few months up to a year, to continually have a conversation with different agencies to help make a place as whole as possible”

Bauman said his synagogue was insured, but he noted, “Insurance companies have outs for everything.

“We’re not even sure if FEMA can help us, because we are a religious institution. What I’ve learned in this environment is, you deal with every single agency and person you can, and not one entity is able to help any given situation, but it will be a combination of things.”

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com

Assistant managing editor Larry Cohler-Esses contributed to this story


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