New Yorkers and Israelis have so much in common – resilience, attitude and that never-quit oomph. Today, rather than the usual occurrence of me checking in with friends and family in Israel to make sure they are safe, they are checking in with me. With Hurricane Sandy in New York, I am the one answering the phone and telling people, “Yes, thankfully we are all fine and well.”
On September 11, 2001, I was visiting Israel for a work trip and my mother in New York was worried about me as I spent the day with friends in the settlements, insisting that I call her the minute I arrive back to my Tel Aviv Hotel. I will never forget walking into my hotel, turning on the TV and seeing the “news alert” about 9-11, and calling my mother to make sure everyone was OK. Tragedy can hit anywhere, at any time.
My area on the Upper West Side wasn’t affected by Sandy, and today is our first day back to work although 5WPR, my PR firm, is in an office on 57th Street and 7th Avenue facing the crane you have all seen on the news. Many New Yorkers weren’t as lucky — many of my co-workers remain without power, have lost belongings, have had their cars totaled, or experienced other major damage. The damage in NYC is real, palpable and something that has affected this city in a major way.
A friend of mine whose home was destroyed – a tough Russian Jew who escaped Soviet Communism — emailed:
First time I cried in years. All my kids’ history, memories, all the tapes, pictures, videos destroyed. Every personal item I own destroyed.
Of course all I can offer him is that life needs to go on – and it will. My office is working and forging forward and slowly life will undoubtedly return to normal – but this isn’t some over-hyped media occurrence. New York, New Jersey and the entire East Coast have been affected in a major way.
Many Jewish institutions have been affected — Russian American Jewish Experience (RAJE), a Brighton Beach based charity I am on the board of — has had tremendous disruption and physical damage. The Brighton Beach Synagogue was flooded — the beit midrash (study hall), classrooms, hallways and elevator shaft were submerged in four feet of water.
The lower-level large room, which we call “the Moadon,” used by the first level program, was under as much as 12 feet or water at the height of the flood and is still flooded. There is no electricity, land-line phone service, Internet or cellular service in the neighborhood. We’re beginning cleanup efforts and are working to raise immediate emergency funds.
Hurricane Sandy caused tremendous damage in New York City, and the aftermath is something we will deal with as a city for a while. Israel offers so many lessons on recovering from tragedy that New Yorkers can learn from. Of course, New York will recover.