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 3 of 3)

The bill is expected to face a stiffer challenge in the Senate. Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president of federal affairs for Agudah, wrote in an email, “Our work is by no means finished,” adding that proponents of the bill will have to educate members “both in terms of the law and the need.” If the bill is passed, groups like Agudah would monitor FEMA’s implementation of the legislation. Cohen said FEMA “has not been supportive of the effort,” so far.

“It could take months — sometimes years — for the funding to flow to where it’s needed,” Cohen said.

If passed, another complex issue will be deciding under what guidelines a building will be classified as a house of worship. Sarna noted that throughout the country, there are nontraditional locations that are used for worship, like Chabad houses, or home-based gatherings among Protestants.

“Suddenly, there’s a question of whether we are going to discriminate in favor of religions that can afford to have a dedicated house of worship,” Sarna said. “This particular law will require government to make very complicated decisions about what is and is not legitimate religious worship space.

“On that basis, it may well be that the courts will decide that the law doesn’t pass constitutional muster, but that’s way into the future and will probably be triggered by some group that will put in for reimbursement and be informed that they are not eligible. Then they will say they’re being discriminated against.”

In addition to Nadler, Rep.Robert C. Scott of Virginia spoke out against the legislation, saying it would violate “years of established legal precedence.” Scott said programs are already available to provide help for religious groups, such as the small business loan program. The American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the proposal.

In a statement released earlier this year, the ADL said it had “real concerns about opening the door to direct government funding for houses of worship,” and that a “taxpayer should not have to fund a religion or a religious institution with which he or she disagrees.”

In the Rockaways, in Queens, Rabbi Marjorie Slome has incurred more than $1 million in damages to West End Temple. She said she was “delighted” to hear that the House passed the legislation. Slome was not looking for money to replace Torahs or prayer books, but to rebuild a facility that hosts meetings of Boy and Girl Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous and other secular civic groups.

“I understand the arguments of those against it, but to me, this is a special situation,” Slome said. “I don’t know if this is going to help my synagogue, but maybe next time, when another natural disaster like this happens, it will be a lot less difficult to fight this battle.”

*Contact Seth Berkman at [[berkman@forward.com](mailto:berkman@forward.com)](mailto:berkman@forward.com)*


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!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • 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.