A photograph showing the aftermath of the heart-breaking devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy on a Far Rockaway synagogue last year was chosen for inclusion in a current exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.
Far Rockaway photographer Laura Deckelman’s photo “Agudas Yisroel of Bayswater: Nothing Can Be Saved” was included in an addition to the museum’s ongoing storm-themed “Rising Waters: Photographs From Sandy” exhibit. The exhibit consists of hundreds of photographs taken by news, professional, and amateur photographers ahead of, during, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Among the hardest-hit areas was the vulnerable Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, exposed as it was to the raging waves of the nearby Atlantic Ocean, as well as the rising tides of both Jamaica Bay and Reynolds Channel.
There was flooding and sewage backup in some parts of Mrs. Deckelman’s own Bayswater neighborhood in Far Rockaway, and much damage was done to a number of homes and other buildings, including the Agudah shul on Bayswater Avenue near Bay 25th Street. The synagogue—whose unusual below-street-level front entrance is architecturally handsome but vulnerable to flooding—had just finished repairing damage caused by the previous year’s Hurricane Irene. Now it was struck again, this time even more severely, inundated by a surge strong enough to smash in one of its heavy wooden front doors and fill the low-lying building, including its beis medrash, with as much as six feet of water. Many hundreds of siddurim, chumashim, and other sefarim were utterly destroyed, and the bimah and the Aron Kodesh were ruined, along with all of the tables, chairs, and other furniture and fixtures. (Thankfully, all of the sifrei Torah had been evacuated.)
Once the storm had passed and the water and debris had finally been pumped out of the shul, the giant clean-up task lay ahead. Mrs. Deckelman, who spent many days after the hurricane using her camera to help flooded-out neighbors document their damage and losses, happened by the wrecked shul on November 4 and produced the heart-rending picture of ruined prayer books and furniture being carried out of the devastated building.
“I had been to Agudah just a little more than a week before the hurricane, for a much more joyful occasion—a bar mitzvah—and I was impressed by how good it looked after the repairs from Irene,” she said. “So I was understandably shocked to see what this new storm had done to this lovely shul. More importantly, I was deeply moved by the dedication shown by Agudah members and other volunteers from the community who were hauling out the ruined sefarim and furniture that day and cleaning the mess up.”
Her picture was one of several dozen shots she took around the Rockaways showing the terrible carnage left in the storm’s wake and the intense local efforts to bounce back from the disaster that she submitted to the museum. While her Agudah picture was not among those initially selected from the thousands of photographs submitted for the main “Rising Waters” exhibition, which opened in late October, it was among several hundred subsequently selected for an expanded “Rising Waters 2.0” exhibit that opened on Thursday, December 26, and which is currently scheduled to run through Sunday, January 5.
The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan between East 103rd and East 104th Streets. For further information about “Rising Waters” or other exhibits, please contact the Museum at 212-534-1672, or at www.mcny.org. v