Exactly one week has passed since we have hunkered down. Our home survived Hurricane Sandy with no visible damage. We lost power for a short period of time last week and our offices were without power for over five days. Many, many of our neighbors are not so lucky. Into the seventh day of no power and no heat with nighttime temperatures in the freezing range some neighbors homes remain flooded and others have begun the overwhelming task of throwing out all the ruined furniture, clothing books and pictures; all of the stuff that make up the decades of memories for families.
Traumatized people are everywhere and official services remain sparse. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had representatives in the area but most people seeking assistance have so far been denied. There have been several reports of looting everywhere but especially in the areas that are still without power The looters are occasionally armed but all they seem to want is some quick money. They break a window steal some silver and off they go. The police say that they do not have the resources to patrol everywhere and we are not seeing many patrol cars at all. The National Guard is about in their Humvee’s. They did a magnificent job in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane saving people who were stranded by rapidly rising flood waters and so did the Coast Guard with their helicopter, but so did Hatzolah by going door to door. No, the local people did not have those high clearance trucks with the five foot tires that the Guard used but everyone pitched in.
In several ways this crisis brought on by Hurricane Sandy makes me think of how life may have been in the shtetl. Where do we go for information, food, warm clothing, linking up with people who have room in their warm homes? The shul, of course! Not to denigrate the service providers, but they are swamped. If one Jew needs help all he or she has to do is ask another Jew and help will be there. Someone may have once suggested that this is a form of survivorship that breeds insularity. I think it breeds singularity.
You might be able to argue that in some circumstances we are not the most charitable of people but in times of need no one else comes through like we do. And, no one gets turned away. At the shul that is the center for assistance in my neighborhood no one was asking for proof of belief or religious affiliation. More than just a handful of community members from other religions sought and received aide. Thank you Red Cross for all the help you are providing. We have not yet seen you around but when you get to the area the shul has lots of warm clothing to offer to you, courtesy of members who were not badly affected by the storm. And you might also get some bottled water and a sandwich, even some dessert while you are there, all courtesy of local kosher food stores. Oh, and there are a few charging stations for your cell phones and wifi availability should you need it, all run on generators that we are somehow finding the gas to power, along with the lights for at least a part of the day.
It was interesting, even inspiring, davening shacharit by the light of the rising sun for the last few days.
When the gas trucks finally make it to the local pumping stations and these gas stations have electricity to finally run their pumps the long lines that make the area look like a post-apocalyptic movie will begin to dissipate. When all the homes finally regain power, which for some may take another three weeks, and life begins to return to normal, the war zone atmosphere will abate. When school buildings open with students and teachers returning to their normal routines in their regular classrooms we will begin to feel settled. Until that time we will feel the trauma and seek some balance and a sense of resilience – which thus far has been supported mostly by ourselves within our own community.