Few Synagogues Damaged by Sandy Have Received FEMA Help

Congregations Reopen But Expensive Repairs Are Needed

Hard Hit: 70 synagogues like Temple Israel were hit hard by superstorm Sandy. Only two have received FEMA relief funds to rebuild.
COURTESY OF TEMPLE ISRAEL
Hard Hit: 70 synagogues like Temple Israel were hit hard by superstorm Sandy. Only two have received FEMA relief funds to rebuild.

By Seth Berkman

Published May 04, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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The funding comes at an opportune time for West End. Original estimates of damages were about $1 million, but they have gone up to about $1.5 million, according to Susan Greenbaum, the synagogue’s project manager. Since February, services have been held in a trailer in the synagogue’s parking lot. But Greenbaum said that by the end of May, the main building’s nursery school, social hall and bathrooms should be operational again.

Like West End, other synagogues continue to make do with temporary arrangements. At Beth El in the Queens neighborhood Belle Harbor, worship and office work are still taking place in a trailer. The synagogue’s original estimate for repairs was about $100,000. That estimate now stands at $500,000. The congregation hopes to return to its main building in the summer, but costs continue to rise.

Some synagogues, facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs, waited months for a response from FEMA, only to be denied. Rabbi Levi Gurkov of Long Island’s Chabad of Oceanside said his congregation originally incurred $500,000 in damages from the storm and that costs are increasing. “There’s more corroding of pipes,” he said. “Salt water takes a while to eat it up.” Chabad of Oceanside also has yet to receive any insurance payments. Gurkov said he is still arguing with his company over what damages should be covered.

Others turned to the community to help rebuild. Stacey Eager-Leavitt, president of Long Island’s South Baldwin Jewish Center, said that when she was declined by FEMA, she “culled a lot of favors” from members and neighbors, such as carpenters and cleaners who could do recovery work.


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