More than a month after Hurricane Sandy swept ashore, Charlie Messler had all but lost hope of getting government help to rebuild the home that was originally built by his grandfather nearly six decades ago.
Desperate to restore the ruined ground floor, Messler considered selling part of his vintage car collection, which includes a pair of 1928 Chevys, to pay for the work.
But Messler, who is Catholic, first asked a local church and synagogue to put him in touch with private groups that might help.
Within days, a team from Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster, a little-known Minnesota-based volunteer group, showed up at Messler’s door. Along with volunteers from AmeriCorps, the team gutted the wrecked floor in two days.
“I think they’re doing great,” said Messler, 39, a school custodian who lives in the bungalow with his disabled wife and their two children. “I saw immediately they were capable. They’ve helped out tremendously.”
Nechama volunteers did the same at the South Baldwin Jewish Center, the United Synagogue of Hoboken, and more than 50 other houses and buildings in the New York area.
Messler had never heard of Nechama. But even beneficiaries with a stronger connection to the Jewish community were mystified by the arrival of the largely unknown group that worked with pinpoint precision.
“I had never heard of them,” said Stacey Eager-Leavitt, president of the South Baldwin Jewish Center, on Long Island. “I actually had to look into it after they came. They were like knights in shining armor.”
Nechama didn’t fall from the sky, even though Rev. Alexander M. Santora describe in helping restore Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church in Hoboken, N.J., as, “like angels descended from heaven,” in an interview with WINS radio.