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Musical director Stuart Rauch practiced on an electric Yamaha keyboard with student cantor Amanda Winter, who would be performing a selection of songs from her recent senior recital at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The acoustics were far from adequate: The keyboard was noticeably loud inside the small space, and Winter had to step outside to find the right range for her voice in the smaller setting.
As the sky darkened, congregants began arriving shortly before 7:30 p.m. Each new arrival embraced Winter, Slome and other members. Some were coming back to services for the first time, while others were just thankful for the respite from their bills and repairs.
“Even though we’re in a trailer, it gives you a little peace for the little time we’re here…. You can go to a nice place rather than thinking about all the other things: fighting with the insurance company or FEMA, trying to get together the paperwork you need to get a few pennies back for expenses that were horrific,” Marsha Weber said.
Weber said flooding in the basement of her house in the Rockaways reached 5 feet. She is also the sole caretaker of Evelyn Weber, her mother. They’ve lived in the same house for 40 years.
Evelyn Weber, who moves around with the aid of a walker, struggled to climb up the steps to get into the trailer, as there is no ramp. Hard of hearing, she sat by the door, handing out prayer books.
The number of congregants has been rising slowly in recent weeks. Before the trailer was set up in late February, the congregation held services in members’ living rooms.
“People who come to services say things like, ‘I needed this so much,’” Winter said. “Services mean a lot more to people now than they used to. You have your few who are losing faith in God and in religion a little bit, but I think if anything, it’s bringing most of them closer together to God.”
Slome said that she has discussed with members of the Torah study group the importance of regaining normalcy after suffering trauma.
“Friday night and Saturday morning [programming] is ritual for some members of our congregation,” she said. ”It’s their anchor. There’s one woman who was homeless who came down and she’s had to relocate, but the temple is still part of her weekly ritual.”