A member of Berlin’s Jewish community with family in hard-hit Staten Island, N.Y. has started a clothing drive for those affected by superstorm Sandy.
Berliners have been encouraged to bring clothing and small toys to the Chabad center in Berlin on Tuesday and Wednesday. The items will be brought to the American Embassy and Red Cross Berlin later in the week to be shipped.
Bella Zchwiraschwili, an event manager by profession, was moved to action after following what happened to her own aunts, uncles and cousins every step of the way.
“Many people think, ‘Oh, America is rich country, it will be ok,’” she told JTA. “But I practically lived through this with my family, and they are an example of how people lost everything from one day to the next.”
Zchwiraschwili’s relatives, emigrants from Odessa like herself, settled on Staten Island. The family, which since has grown, lived close together.
During the storm, most of the family was evacuated in dinghies. But two people stayed behind to try to rescue possessions from the house. Zchwiraschwili spoke to them as they were literally swimming through the house. Eventually, police came and ordered them to leave, after the sewage pipes in the area burst.
“Last Sunday they returned to the house. They said everything inside is destroyed,” according to Zchwiraschwili. It remains to be seen whether the house itself can be rebuilt. Her relatives are now living with other family in New Jersey and Long Island.
Zchwiraschwili asked her contacts at Chabad if they would open their doors for donations. They were more than willing, she said. Already, some items have come in.
Meanwhile, there are many similar initiatives by churches and other groups in Berlin, Zchwiraschwili said. “I wanted to help the people, and also to get people here to wake up a bit, because there are too few such initiatives in general. You don’t have to wait for a crisis to be active.”