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!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • 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.