David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Living through Sandy, recalling Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht offers a useful lesson in resilience

A family who lost their power last week in Hurricane Sandy moved into my home for several days when my power was restored.

Things were coming along nicely.

Their kids were adjusting in their temporary new surroundings and everyone was doing their best to be cheery. We heard so many heart-wrenching stories of families we knew in Woodmere, Long Beach, Far Rockaway and Seagate who suffered such enormous losses. After all we had lights. We were careful not to complain.

We had just sat down for dinner — my family and our guest family. The snowstorm that we really didn’t need was now in full throttle. The lights flickered. They flickered a second time and then we lost power. Once again out came the candles and flashlights.

Two days after getting our power restored following seven days of a blackout and we’re back in the dark again.

Hurricane Sandy surpassed its own tipping point. She’s crossed over from nuisance to devastation.

A young woman who lives on the oceanfront in Seagate watched as her home was submerged in water. Her car was destroyed. She told friends that 30 years of memories are lost. All her pictures, her memorabilia, all gone.

Howard Beach in the aftermath of Sandy (illustrative photo credit: CC BY Pam_Andrade, Flickr)

I spoke to a young man who is a prolific collector of rare Jewish books. He is meticulous in maintaining them, a talmid chachom who learns and at the same time had enormous enjoyment knowing the greatest sages of yesteryear were lining his bookshelves.

Until last week when the raging flood waters swept away his entire collection. Everything’s gone. Two decades worth of dedication. These events can be so traumatic that it is even difficult to recapture such memories.

FEMA doesn’t reimburse passion.

People are losing their homes.

A person left without any family pictures.

A rare collection of sefarim, 20 years of work and significant financial investment all obliterated.

The insurance stories abound of people desperate to hear the words, “yes you’re covered, you have flood insurance.”

On this year’s anniversary of Kristallnacht, Sandy unearthed similar stories a previous generation recounted over many years. Left with no homes, no family pictures, little money…these immigrant survivors rebuilt a life, a community, a generation.

Their resilience is testament to who we are today.

The outpouring of emotional, physical and financial support across communities is a lifeline.

Kristallnacht could not break our spirit, our drive to rebuild, our intensity as a community of people seeking ways to support each other.

Neither will Sandy break our resolve.

Our resilience is stronger than her winds.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.