October 25, 2013, New York, NY – This week marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which caused dozens of deaths, billions of dollars in damage, and left more than 7.5 million people without power. When the hurricane hit, the Union for Reform Judaism and its member congregations responded immediately.
“When our Congregational Networks team connected with rabbis at each congregation in the storm’s path and learned that two of our own congregations – West End Temple in Neponsit, NY, and Temple Sinai of Massapequa, NY – were heavily damaged by flood waters, we connected their leaders with key emergency management personnel, legal support, and vital funding,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. “Our response to the storm was Reform Judaism at its very best – not only did we support our own communities in crisis, but Reform Jews generously gave their all to assist in the general relief effort.”
“We are humbled by the response to assist those in need in this crisis,” said URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Daniel Freelander. “The URJ is proud that we were able to help facilitate aid from Reform Jews who acted from the heart, giving anonymously to those who will never know who provided the resources to help them rebuild their lives. This is the highest rung of Maimonides’ ladder of Tzedakah. It is holy work that makes a real difference on the ground.”
In total, the URJ’s Hurricane Sandy relief fund collected nearly $850,000 in donations, hundreds of volunteers were mobilized through congregations and NECHAMA, tens of thousands of meals prepared and delivered, and countless families saw their situations vastly improved by the generosity of the Reform Movement.
Relief Fund Allocation Updates
In the weeks and months following Hurricane Sandy, the URJ’s Disaster Relief Committee was deliberate in allocating funds to both URJ congregations and general relief organizations. Below is an update on those grants (all amounts are aggregate):
- West End Temple, Neponsit, NY ($190,000) – Rabbi Marjorie Slome’s congregation of only 98 families was flooded with more than five feet of water during the storm. While their immediate priorities were making sure congregants were safe, it quickly became clear that their building had sustained more than $2 million in damage. The URJ made a series of allocations to West End Temple to rebuild. To date, URJ allocations have provided West End Temple with a trailer for meeting and office space, funds to hire a project manager, replenishment of lost prayer books, and funding for building materials and labor.
URJ Staff are in regular contact with West End Temple’s rabbi and project manager, and the allocations committee is prepared to make a final funding allocation for their rebuilding based on the outcome of their insurance appeal.
- Temple Sinai, Massapequa, NY ($32,725) – This small congregation experienced moderate flooding which necessitated the replacement of floors and walls throughout their building. URJ funding has allowed for Temple Sinai to have a mold inspection and remediation, provided critical funds for building materials, and replaced damaged prayer books.
- URJ Congregants ($25,000) – As the URJ learned of families who had lost homes, valuables, and businesses, the URJ released funds to individual rabbis’ discretionary funds to help the hardest hit in our communities.
- NECHAMA: Jewish Response to Disaster ($50,000) – Volunteers and staff coordinators from NECHAMA remain in impacted areas today. Initially focused on debris removal and gutting of homes, NECHAMA’s staff is now helping families rebuild. Having coordinated more than 2,000 volunteers over the past year, NECHAMA played a critical role in the Jewish community’s response to Hurricane Sandy, and they became a crucial component in connecting families and businesses with FEMA personnel. With one of our grants, NECHAMA purchased a portable shower trailer, providing those displaced by disaster with critical facilities.
- Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, NY ($75,000) – In the days following Hurricane Sandy, CBE opened its sanctuary doors and served as a distribution center for donations bound for Sandy’s victims. This effort grew, and CBE saw its kitchen begin to produce thousands of meals a week for those who found themselves living in food deserts following the storm.
- NYLAG - New York Legal Assistance Group ($50,000) – Navigating insurance policies, FEMA regulations, and other emergency assistance requirements became a fulltime job for storm victims, especially for immigrant families and non-native English speakers. NYLAG’s response to the storm provided thousands with free legal clinics, consultations, and help navigating regulations. They were especially helpful to Long Island synagogues dealing with complex government agencies.
- Friends of Rockaway ($60,000) – One of the hardest hit areas of the storm, the Rockaways were completely engulfed by seawater. This community’s calls for help were hardly answered, so they hired unemployed residents, trained them in debris removal and basic construction techniques, and put them to work in their own community. The URJ’s grant to Friends of Rockaway meant nearly 10 residents were employed, and dozens of homes were rehabbed, over a three month period.
- Broad Channel Athletic Club ($25,000) – Even months after the storm, when families had returned to partially rebuilt communities, things were far from normal. School children no longer had afterschool activities or local sports leagues. The URJ’s grant to Broad Channel Athletic Club replaced sports equipment used by community children, and helped Broad Channel take another step toward returning to “normal.”
- Long Term Relief Groups (LTRGs) ($50,000) – All along the Jersey shore, these LTRGs began to emerge in order to support long-term recovery of local residents and businesses. Given insurance and FEMA payment delays, and the inability of these payments to cover all vital expenses, communities organized these groups to arrange for contracted services, group purchasing, and donations to individuals with the highest need. The URJ granted funds to both the Monmouth and Ocean Country LTRGs, which served two of the hardest hit communities.