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Puerto Rico has once again been struck by a natural disaster – a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit the island in the early morning on January 7.
More than 3,000 seismic events have since been recorded, and 30 earthquakes of varying strength have caused significant physical and emotional damage in parts of the island, exacerbating the still-unrepaired devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
At Temple Beth Shalom, though the neighborhood still has continuing sporadic power outages, our new solar panels have worked as expected. San Juan is filled with tourists and snowbirds who are enjoying our beautiful beaches, gorgeous weather, and excellent restaurants and hotels.
The same cannot be said for the rest of the island, particularly in the southern region.
People whose homes are uninhabitable are sleeping in tents or under the open sky on the medians and shoulders of highways, where there’s no fear of falling objects. Even people whose homes aren’t damaged are sleeping close to the nearest exit, on their balconies, in their front yards, or in their cars out of fear of being trapped inside in the event of another major quake.
Our congregation’s social action committee has joined the other volunteer efforts on the island to address the pressing short-term needs of people for water, food, shelter, and moral support. Our congregation has been assigned to assist 19 specific families, and we hope to expand our outreach.
Two weeks ago, the committee made its second in-person visit to the Guanica area, bringing requested supplies such as toothpaste, diapers, deodorant, and pet food. In collaboration with other social service agencies, we were able to secure two six-person tents and cots for this group of people, whose homes are uninhabitable or have been completely destroyed. The TBS committee also distributed to our assigned families $100 gift cards that can be used to buy necessities at local stores.
Our tikkun olam (healing the world) campaign is only scratching the surface of this humanitarian crisis – 19 families among the thousands of the people whose lives have been upended – but it is all our tiny congregation is capable of doing at this point.
We are grateful for the unsolicited contributions that have come in from individuals and congregations on the mainland, as well as from members and friends of Temple Beth Shalom, enabling us to raise enough money to buy the supplies we have so far distributed – but with adequate funds, we would be able to help additional displaced families, providing them with food, water, lamps, cell phone chargers, portable stoves, medicine, and other needed emergency supplies.
For more information or to donate to our efforts, please visit tbspr.org/disaster-response or call me at 973-641-4289.
Rabbi Norman Patz is visiting rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom of Puerto Rico and rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom of West Essex, Cedar Grove New Jersey.