My family — and home — have thankfully emerged intact and well after five days of no power following the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy over the East Coast.
The night of its wrath we watched as exploding transformers literally lit up the sky over Teaneck, NJ, and beyond. The winds were howling enough for us to strategize what parts of our house — no joke — we should avoid to prevent being hit by a falling tree.
Times have certainly been trying, as the temperatures gradually dropped and my kids and I huddled under coats and blankets, listening to a battery-operated radio for the latest news each night. Taking showers in unheated bathrooms was no easy task. We threw out plenty of food, and essentially put our life on hold for a week.
But it clearly could have been so much worse! More than 100 people lost their lives, most dramatically in Staten Island, where homes and people were literally swept away. Attempting to find an open gasoline station continues to be challenging, and many parts of the New York metropolitan area remain without power, including Long Island, where my sister and her two young children live.
Throughout it all, I have been struck by the kindness of certain people and communities and disheartened by the indifference of others. In the more affluent neighborhoods around here, people have used generators to power up their homes, sometimes sharing the “wealth” with others, while other times — at least with two of my neighbors — not even inquiring if we needed to charge up a cell phone or come in their house for some warmth. The generators’ constant lawnmower-like buzzing woke me up at times, and I kept imagining what pollutants were being spewed in our direction.
And I was dismayed that at least one synagogue sent out e-mail messages asking members with power to set up minyanim at their homes and giving halachic guidelines as to how to observe Shabbat in the dark. Does anyone seriously find it comforting to know that a non-Jew can refuel your generator?? I would have appreciated it more if the leadership had inquired about individual families’ circumstances or offered other types of assistance. Only today, almost a week since Sandy took hold six days later, did the rabbi of one prominent shul offer specific help.
But the outpouring of support by others, including my children’s amazing school, Ben Porat Yosef — which opened immediately after regaining power and provided breakfast and hot lunch to all students, power stations and coffee for parents to recharge, and the coordination of Shabbat hospitality for families without heat — was nothing short of amazing. I believe I would have had some kind of meltdown without the consistency the school provided for my family and the routine and structure that my kids sorely needed. Even today, a Sunday, they opened the building to the community and were planning to show a kids’ movie in the afternoon.
I ended up with two “offers” for Shabbat, including one from an acquaintance in Riverdale, NY, who approached me at school and volunteered to find me an apartment to stay at in her neighborhood. In the end, I took up the generous hospitality of friends in nearby Englewood to spend Shabbat with them. We had a wonderful time, our kids were thrilled to eat gourmet meals and play with kids their age, and we loved the adult conversation and warm home! (Endless thanks to Miriam and David — who, as per their nature, have shrugged off their efforts!)
The power outage ironically coincided with the Torah portion of Vayera, in which the mitzva of hachnasat orchim, or hospitality to guests, is a key theme. I couldn’t have asked for nicer hosts or a more supportive school for my children. So, on behalf of my family and community, yasher koach to those who rose to the challenge and made our lives a bit more bearable!