Hit by Sandy, Jewish Congregation in Rockaways Finds Renewed Faith in Trailer

West End Temple Still Faces Long Road to Recovery

Haunting Sight: Nearly six months after Sandy, the West End Temple in the Rockaways is still holding services in  a trailer in its parking lot.
claudio papapietro
Haunting Sight: Nearly six months after Sandy, the West End Temple in the Rockaways is still holding services in a trailer in its parking lot.

By Seth Berkman

Published April 07, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
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On a recent Friday evening, Shabbat services at the West End Temple in the Rockaways was literally humming.

The vibrations weren’t emanating from members immersed in prayer. They came from a diesel generator that powers the 50-foot-long trailer where services are being held since the congregation’s sanctuary suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Nearly six months after the storm struck, about 20 worshippers attend weekly services inside the trailer, which sits in the parking lot of the damaged main building. The organ blares incongruously in the cramped space. A stack of donated prayer books sits in a corner. In the bathroom, congregants can flush the toilet by stepping on a pedal. Above the sink, a sign warns that the water is not suitable for human consumption.

“I’m like the trailer trash rabbi,” Rabbi Marjorie Slome said.

Humor helps keep Slome afloat as her synagogue faces millions of dollars in repairs and some of her congregants remain displaced after the storm.

Ninety-year-old Evelyn Weber was more straightforward about the storm’s impact.

“I’m teaching you a Jewish word. This was a real umglik — a tragedy,” she said. “In addition to things that were worth money, just all the things you had to throw away, [photographs,] the memories of being here that we lost, you can’t replace your whole life history.”


Student Cantor Amanda Winter addresses congregants at West End Temple.
claudio papapietro
Student Cantor Amanda Winter addresses congregants at West End Temple.

As the season turns, and the region tries to put Sandy behind it, the trailer-bound congregation at West End is a testament to the storm’s lingering damage and to the painfully slow path to physical and spiritual recovery.

Despite being shoehorned into a space about one-tenth the size of the old sanctuary, Slome does her best to make her temporary location feel like home. The rabbi arranged trays of cookies and placed a loaf of challah between two candles, along with bottles of Manischewitz wine, on a folding table during the service the week before the start of Passover. Three rows of five folding chairs waited for worshippers.


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