By Michele Justic
Where can you turn to when your house is flooded and you’re surrounded by cold and darkness? When people began climbing out of the mess from Hurricane Sandy, the answer came in, through phone calls, messages, and any form of communication possible: Come to Chabad!
It began the first Wednesday after the storm. As soon as power was turned on at the shul, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Wolowik and Rabbi and Rebbetzin Geisinsky immediately got to work, thinking of how they could be of help to the community. Everyone had been trapped at home for a couple of days, most often without power and sometimes even in unsafe conditions. So they decided to open up the shul to anyone to gather socially and, on a practical note, to recharge any electronics. Our Sages note that one good deed often leads to another, and in this case Nachi Light of QCumbers selflessly decided to prepare fresh foods for everyone, free of charge, all day long. The day succeeded at boosting the spirits of all involved, but it became readily apparent that the tragic post-Sandy losses would not be brought back in one day.
Chabad continued to invite the community to come in and invited donations of food and other basics. Morning, noon, and night, and anytime in between, Chabad was the only place to go for many stuck in cold homes without proper food. Hot food was served all day long thanks to Amnon’s Pizza, Brach’s, Carlos and Gabby’s, Chap-A-Nosh, Cho-Sen Island, Coffee Bar, Genadeen Caterers, Gotta Getta Bagel, Gourmet Glatt, Masbia, Maspikay Mazon, Oasis Caterers, Ossie’s Fish, QCumbers, Schwartz Appetizing, and many anonymous sponsors.
Entertainment was provided for the children and, as each day passed, others stepped up to the plate as well, such as the pediatricians from Long Island Pediatrics who offered to check out any possibly sick children free of charge, regardless of whether they were previously their patients. Lev Leytzan, the therapeutic clown troupe, came to entertain. The children enjoyed the captivating stories told by professional storyteller Rabbi Benny Wieglus. Social workers from Chai Lifeline and Ohel came to offer free counseling services to counter the emotional havoc that had been wrought. Products such as NASA-engineered thermal blankets, gloves, and socks, as well as more down-to-earth products such as toothpaste and soap, were made available to thousands of families thanks to donations from Mr. Stanley Schuckman of Schuckman Realty, Congregation Ahavas Chesed-Ridnik of the Upper West Side, the Kemp Mill Synagogue of Silver Spring, Maryland, and many more sponsors.
Throughout the weeks, thousands of people had come to Chabad for their needs. It also became clear that many could not come to Chabad. Many had cars washed away, elderly people had non-functioning elevators, and others were just too traumatized to move. Chabad took it upon themselves to make regular deliveries throughout town, of food and other products. Volunteers from all over came to assist in helping the homebound. They also helped in cleanup efforts, carpet removal, etc.
Tamar Steinman was happy to have Chabad to turn to. Faced with a cold, powerless house and three young children, Tamar and her family were forced to relocate three times in the course of two weeks. When she decided to take her grandparents, who suffered terrible damages to their Belle Harbor home, to Chabad for some respite, Tamar truly saw Chabad’s effect. Everyone loved being there. Tamar said, “They didn’t feel alone. People were reaching out. They had other people to share their story with. It was good for them. The next day, they called me up to ask me to take them there again.” Tamar helped out by boxing supplies and making deliveries. Her daughter also enjoyed her time at Chabad being watched by volunteers and coloring and making art projects and even a Shabbos party. Tamar describes the incredible people at Chabad: “They didn’t have power themselves but they were there every day with a warm smile—giving, giving, giving. . . . It gave people strength to have somewhere to go. They knew they could get a hot meal and feel welcomed.”
Paula Friedman, a Cedarhurst resident who suffered small damage and had no power for a week, came to Chabad every day. She set up breakfast. She notes how people made friends there. In addition to the camaraderie, everyone also pitched in to help. Paula became acquainted with many personalities who benefited from Chabad’s warmth during this crucial time.
One woman couldn’t thank Paula enough for watching her children while she took care of matters at home. Paula notes, “People were always trying to cheer you up. It wasn’t just the hot dinner, it was the warmth of the people. Teenagers were arguing over helping people—who would serve dinner. This really brought out the best in people.”
Devora Krasnianski also lived in Cedarhurst. In her area, water covered the cars and filled basements completely. She relates, “At Chabad, I felt people cared. People were there. There was food and whatever else we needed. The Wolowiks and the Geisinskys know the right thing to say all the time, even to people they didn’t know.” Devora even brought her contractor to Chabad to see what’s going on. He was amazed; he had no idea. Devora notes it was not the devastation that brought tears to her eyes “but seeing the good people were doing.” She notes, “You can’t capture the devastation and you can’t capture the good people were doing.”
We recently read the Torah portion about the destruction of the city of Sodom, known for its vehement refusal to help guests, as contrasted with the actions of Avraham and Sarah, known for their gracious treatment of guests of all sorts. In the aftermath of the terrible destruction wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, the Five Towns community witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of hospitality, Avraham-and-Sarah style. Residents all throughout town reached out to neighbors, and even those they did not know, to open their homes to them. Chabad of the Five Towns did so on a grand scale to the entire community.
Though much has been covered by generous donations, Chabad of the Five Towns, acting as a “chesed first responder” of sorts, laid out a lot of money for these efforts. To donate to Chabad of the Five Towns’ Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, please visit www.chabadfivetowns.com/hurricanesandy. v