Aid to Sandy-Hit Synagogues Splits Jewish Lawmakers, Community Down the Middle

Shuls Need Help, But Some Cite Church-State Separation

Separation of Sandy and Shul: The superstorm did massive damage to synagogues including this one on Long Island. But the Jewish community is deeply divided on whether the federal government should provide aid to houses of worship, Sandy or no.
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. But the Jewish community is deeply divided on whether the federal government should provide aid to houses of worship, Sandy or no.

By Seth Berkman

Published February 21, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

“According to one side, it requires a strict separation, and Jews have frequently favored that interpretation, although it doesn’t exactly say that in the First Amendment,” Sarna said. “They have often believed that the more government is separate from religious institutions, not giving them aid and not concerning themselves with religious institutions, the better it would be for religion generally and for minority faiths in particular.”

The other argument, according to Sarna, is that the First Amendment aims “to ensure that government doesn’t favor one religion over another.” An example is the placement of religious symbols in public areas during the holiday season, as long as all religions are represented.

Three months after the October 29 storm, Congress finally approved an aid package for the affected states. It will ultimately total $50 billion. But even before money was allocated, leaders from a broad range of Jewish groups, including the Orthodox Union, the Jewish Federations of North America, the New York Board of Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly and Agudath Israel, had already begun pressuring Congress to amend the law that makes houses of worship largely ineligible for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Groups like UJA-Federation of New York advised synagogues to apply for FEMA aid, particularly if they provided essential public services, such as schools or homeless shelters, institutions that are eligible to receive aid.

Yisroel Schulman, co-founder, president and attorney-in-charge of the New York Legal Assistance Group, told the Forward last December that organizations involved in critical charitable work should be covered; however, such labels would not be necessary if the current bill passed, as it would include buildings “without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”

It’s an amendment to the FEMA law that has received bipartisan support in the House. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also wrote a letter to FEMA recently, saying, “Churches, synagogues and mosques serve as a bedrock for our citizens and our communities,” and that recovery from a natural disaster “isn’t a matter of state sponsoring religion.”

But Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center, disagreed, saying that the bill “clearly raises issues on separation of church and state.”

“It’s government funding religious institutions and their buildings,” Saperstein said. He also echoed Nadler’s notion that the bill was rushed through the House. “We barely had time to focus on it in our office,” he said. “I hope the Senate will take time to look at this very carefully before moving into a constitutionally problematic area.”


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!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • 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.