In the six months since Superstorm Sandy devastated coastal communities in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the Reform Jewish community has rallied to support the rebuilding effort, our synagogues, and the millions of people who were – and continue to be – impacted by the storm.
Although much of the Reform Movement’s work has been behind the scenes – raising and allocating funds, coordinating volunteers, and keeping abreast of the rebuilding efforts two of our synagogues are undertaking – our members have risen to the occasion. Countless volunteer hours have been applied to the cause, entire trailers of donated goods have been sent by our synagogues to some of the hardest-hit communities, and the URJ’s Disaster Relief Fund, which opened just after the storm passed, raised nearly $1 million for relief efforts.
Here’s are 10 ways the Reform Movement has aided in relief efforts during the last six months:
- To date, we’ve allocated $142,000 to Reform congregations affected by the storm. Among the allocation are $90,000 to West End Temple in Neponsit, NY; $20,000 to Temple Sinai in Massapequa, NY; $7,500 to North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, NY, to provide meals to displaced families; $5,000 to Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY, to help families replace lost Judaica; and the remaining $19,500 to congregations with families who were displaced or whose homes were severely damaged.
- We provided special assistance to West End Temple in Neponsit, NY. This congregation in the Far Rockaways section of New York suffered significant damage from Hurricane Sandy. The URJ collected funds on behalf of West End Temple until their electricity was restored and their online donation system functional. In addition to our monetary donation to the congregation, the Men of Reform Judaism’s Reform on Campus grantees donated $500 in the form of Target gift cards to West End Temple.
- We established a Youth Scholarship Fund to help affected young people remain connected with the Jewish community. At a time when their belongings and homes may be damaged or lost, this fund removes financial barriers that could keep displaced youth from engaging with their faith community when they need it most. The Women of Reform Judaism contributed $10,000 to this fund.
- The Central Conference of American Rabbis sent more than 400 prayer books to storm-ravaged synagogues. New copies of Mishkan T’filah, the Reform Movement prayer book, went to West End Temple, as well as to Temple Sinai in Massapequa, which also suffered severe storm damage.
- We supported Congregation Beth Elohim’s efforts to help their neighbors. The Brooklyn congregation, which provided meals and organized volunteers after the storm, served as a hub for a diverse group of people from varying religious, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds to help those most in need. Our $50,000 allocation to them supported these efforts and more.
- We sent $50,000 to New York Legal Assistance Group, which provides free civil legal services to New Yorkers who cannot afford a private attorney. NYLAG continue to help victims with FEMA applications, public benefits, housing issues, insurance and other immediate legal needs. The organization also trains lawyers unfamiliar with this kind of work to help their neighbors.
- We sent money and volunteers to NECHAMA, the Jewish Response to Disaster, to build additional response capacity. NECHAMA personnel arrived in New Jersey less than 18 hours after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, worked through the snowstorm that occurred the following week and deployed their entire staff to manage volunteers, assist individuals and organizations with clean-up and preparation for rebuilding. Our $50,000 grant is helping the organization increase human capital and their inventory of tools, equipment, supplies and vehicles on the ground.
- We provided grants to organizations doing on-the-ground rebuilding, allocating $60,000 to Friends of Rockaway, which hires unemployed Queens residents to properly gut homes destroyed by the storm. Michael Sinensky, co-founder of Friends of the Rockaways, said of the group’s work, “[We] are one of the only local groups in Rockaway not only doing relief, but rebuilding.” We also sent $25,000 to help rebuild the Broad Channel Athletic Club, a community center that provides extracurricular activities – including an after-school teen club and summer sports leagues – to New York communities.
- We’re helping local groups focus on long-term rebuilding. We sent $25,000 each to the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group and the Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group, located in storm-ravaged New Jersey counties where Sandy had massive and widespread impact. As recently as March, more than 1,500 families and individuals in Monmouth County remained displaced, and another 1,000 inhabited homes unfit for living due to a lack of heat, hot water, or a growth of mold on the premises. These groups are working to coordinate services and resources to help address the long-term needs of residents.
- Reform congregations all over North America pitched in to help. Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, IL, sent 300 lbs. of toiletries to Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, NJ. Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan donated 2,500 cans of soup, hundreds of pounds of cleaning supplies, and more than $29,000 to aid those in need. Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, FL, sent warm clothing, water, food, and emergency supplies to hard-hit areas in Staten Island and New Jersey. Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore dispatched six trucks of food, clothing, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, pet supplies, and more to affected areas. And the list goes on.
The responses seen across the Reform Jewish community are powerful. Hurricane Sandy brought about terrible destruction and stories of despair – but within the last six months have emerged stories of hope, partnership, and peoplehood. In a time of great need, the organized Reform Movement and congregations across North America came together to show that we are, indeed, a movement.