Yesterday’s New York Times included a powerful, painful piece by Sharon Otterman titled “For Congregation Leaders, Hurricane is Taking a Toll.” It profiles four houses of worship badly damaged when Hurricane Sandy hit land two weeks ago, including West End Temple in Neponsit, N.Y., located in the Rockaways section of Queens.
When the storm hit, it brought four feet of water and debris into the first floor of this Reform synagogue, destroying the congregation’s Torah and prayerbooks and causing significant damage to the building. To stay safe, volunteers have to wear masks in order to work inside the building. Otterman writes,
In the Rockaways section of Queens, Rabbi Marjorie Slome visits her Reform Jewish congregation, West End Temple, each day to see what she can salvage. All of the prayer books and Torah commentaries were ruined when flooding filled the basement and reached up to four feet on the first floor. The sanctuary, offices and social hall were covered in inches of muck.
“I fully expected to come in here on Tuesday and open up my temple to serve the community and let it be a food distribution place,” she said. “And we couldn’t. Instead, I’m going around telling volunteers helping us, ‘It’s unsanitary: put your mask on; wear your gloves.’ ”
…One aspect of the storm’s aftermath is how some clergy members are themselves suffering, said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Some rabbis, he said, had told him they found the week after the storm “one of the most exhausting of their lives.”
Some clergy members remain without power in their own homes, yet they spend their days calling and visiting their congregants, helping them through their losses and isolation. “It’s an emotional overload,” Rabbi Freelander said. “It’s like having 30 funerals in a week.”
The URJ is collecting funds on behalf of West End Temple until the synagogue’s online donation system is functional. If you want to help West End Temple rebuild, you can donate online now.