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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During services, Slome sits next to the front table with the candles, leading the congregation in prayer and song, while the lights above occasionally flicker as the generator increases or decreases in noise. The group members sing and clap along to songs like “V’Shamru” and share thanks in celebrating Passover.

“I think one good thing about being in here is, you can actually hear everyone singing,” Winter said. “When you’re in the big sanctuary and there’s this number of people, it feels much less. It’s kind of exciting when you see we have to put down more chairs than were originally out there. It feels like a large, tight group that’s worshipping together.”

Jill Hunziker, a Rockaways resident, said she enjoys how Slome can inject humor into a service while relating to a wide audience that is not necessarily strictly observant.

“She really makes it easy for lots of people who may have been more assimilated Jews, or those from intermarriages,” Hunziker said. “She allows the tent to be really big.”

During the service, Slome compared the story of Passover to the storm. “Many of us felt like we walked into the Red Sea,” she said to her congregation, “and it didn’t part for us. But we are a people who go back a long way and know how to deal with challenges.”

Few in the Rockaways remember many challenges like the one posed when Superstorm Sandy rolled ashore last October 29.

Although the wind and rain did little damage at the West End Temple, which had a membership of around 100 people, the rising floodwaters submerged the entire sanctuary in several feet of water. When Slome arrived hours after the storm passed, the pews were still completely underwater.

Even today, watermarks that reached up to 5 feet on the glass entry doors have not yet been cleaned. The floors of the sanctuary and gymnasium were completely stripped off, with the dirt underneath exposed. Walking on the ground in these rooms felt like walking across the sandy Atlantic Ocean beaches less than a half a mile away.

When Slome walks through the building now, she does her best to shield the pain by pretending that she’s walking back in time. It’s like “walking into an archaeological dig,” she said.

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