Little-Known Jewish Group Helps Sandy Victims

Minnesota-Based Nechama Steps In Like 'Angels From Heaven'

Little Known: Volunteers from Nechama help cart debris from the ruined ground floor of Messler’s home in Oceanside, L.I.
courtesy of nechama
Little Known: Volunteers from Nechama help cart debris from the ruined ground floor of Messler’s home in Oceanside, L.I.

By Seth Berkman

Published December 12, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
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In Hoboken, Nechama volunteers helped clear local houses of worship and polling places before Election Day. The visitors who came to praise their work included Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a Hoboken resident.

“They knew what needed to be done and how to organize our people to do it,” said the United Synagogue of Hoboken’s Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. “They had generators and lights and everything needed to complete this task.”

Lewinson, who helped gather meals and supplies for the Nechama team during its three weeks volunteering in northern New Jersey, said he contacted other Jewish community centers asking them to consider entering into a formal relationship with Nechama.

“If we could, we would be their partner in every city and state in the country,” he said. “We’re open to everybody, they’re open to everybody. We’re exactly who they are; it’s exactly the same Jewish values we believe in. “The only thing that stops them from doing more [is], they need financial support.”

Bette Birnbaum, a member of the United Synagogue of Hoboken who was recently named to Nechama’s board, said the organization received an increase of support while helping in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where Nechama stayed for up to a year, but “it wasn’t enough to create the funding and sustenance for the organization, which always seems to hang on by a thread.

“My perception is that they plow their money into the work,” Birnbaum said. “It’s very expensive to run, just on the equipment and gas.”

Bill Driscoll Jr., Nechama’s executive director, said that as word of mouth of Nechama’s recent work has spread, the number of Jewish volunteers has increased, along with donations. The Reform and Conservative movements have also made significant donations. . Ballner estimated that he stays up until midnight each day, filing paperwork and preparing for the next day’s work, but the long hours won’t deter him from helping as many affected parties as he can while Nechama has the resources.

“It doesn’t matter how much sleep I get,” he said. “I’m excited to wake up every morning. I’m proud to wake up and work for this organization.”

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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