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Feeling helpless, miles away from Sandy

A native New Yorker, heartbroken and wishing she could help

As a native New Yorker living in Israel, I’ve watched the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy with a feeling of complete helplessness. Image after image, and video after video, of chaos, destruction and devastation abounds.

I’ve been monitoring the live blogs from the New York media and each time a friend on Long Island, Lower Manhattan, Westchester, or New Jersey, posts on Facebook with an update on their situation, I let out a little bit of the breath that I’ve been holding inside since Sandy made landfall last week.

This is the first time I’m not on the ground with the people of New York, but I’ve lived through some of the worst the city has seen and I can empathize with what they’re going through. I was living on the Lower East Side during 9/11 when everything below 14th Street was completely cut off from the rest of the world. Where the shelves of the local supermarket quickly went bare, and they used Grand Street (my block) to shuttle body parts back and forth to the morgue. That week was unbearable, and we had power! I lived in a building full of elderly people, and many cannot fend for themselves. Imagining what they have been doing without power is unthinkable. Hearing stories of elderly residents living off of crumbs and scraps because no one has been around to check on them and they cannot walk the stairs to pick up relief packages, is heartbreaking.

I lived alone on the Upper West Side during the Blackout of 2003. I remember sitting at my desk in Rockefeller Center as my computer went black and then watching from my window as people poured into the street. Many thought we were under attack again, but once we realized it was “just” a blackout, a different kind of survivor mode kicked in. Walking with the throngs of New Yorkers uptown to my apartment was surreal. On 57th Street and Avenue of the Americas, the subway grate suddenly lifted and a group of people trapped in the sweltering subway emerged. I watched them climb out, one by one, and then kiss the floor, praise their God of choice, and cry.

I stopped by my corner bodega for a couple of bottles of drinks and realized how lucky I was to have cash on hand. I wondered what people who needed provisions were doing if they didn’t have any money. And then, by the small flame of my lighter, I trekked up eight flights of steps to my apartment. I was very lucky, we were only in the dark for less than 24 hours, but it was a horrible experience. Being stuck alone, in the dark, was very frightening. I can only imagine how much harder it must be for people with children who are also sitting amongst ruined furniture, carpeting and other property damage.

My heart goes out to the people of New York and New Jersey who are dealing with the aftermath and the long road to recovery. For me, the devastation on Long Beach has been the most heartbreaking. The boardwalk at Atlantic Beach and Long Beach were the places I went to when I needed to be by myself. When life was hard and I just needed to clear my head and think, I would take my parents’ Toyota Corolla and drive the 25 minutes to the beach. I spent many nights alone walking up and down the boardwalk, staring off into the water and finding solace.

The boardwalk at Atlantic and Long Beaches are no more, and all that I’m left with are memories. The fun birthday with two of my closest friends when we turned 21 (we toasted with cheap peach sparkling grape juice), attending Camp Avnet (now HALB) as a child, burying my Dad in the sand with my siblings, and watching the planes coming in for a landing at JFK the night before I made Aliyah and wondering if I would catch a glimpse of the boardwalk from the plane when I flew away.

Aside from donating money to organizations that are helping fund the recovery and rebuilding, I wish there was something more I could do!

So, here I sit, six thousands miles away and read about the stories. The bad stories, of celebrity parties, and price gouging, and lawlessness. And, the good stories, of students bringing food to the elderly trapped in high buildings, and strangers with power opening their homes to people without.

And I am so proud to be a New Yorker.

Like so many others living thousands of miles away from New York who want to help, Tablet Magazine listed places where people can donate funds to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

About the Author
Shira Zwebner is a public relations consultant and writer living in Jerusalem. A Mommy blogger and recent Olah, Shira writes about living and raising a family as an American trying to find her niche within Israeli culture.