Sewage Inadequacy Strikes Again
Eighteen years ago, our family suffered the biggest loss of our lives when we lost our son Chananya, a’h. This morning, as we were cleaning away the debris incurred during the storm from the massive sewage overflow into our home, sadly I had to discard nearly all the photos of all the years that were memories of his short and precious life. At this moment, I do not just feel an overwhelming sadness, I feel deep anger towards the Village of Lawrence, the County of Nassau, and whoever is responsible for a sewer system that persistently fails and is totally antiquated in its inability to sustain proper function.
Sewage backup in our home is not just a problem related to storms; it is an ongoing problem in Harborview and other areas of our village and town. Meetings and contacting town officials yield nothing more than advice to install all kinds of mechanisms including pump ejectors, check valves, and generators in an effort to keep pushing the sewage away. But after following all the advice of a town that refuses to update its faulty and inadequate system, we have had to change our boiler three times in four years plus all of our major appliances.
Ejecting sewage back into the street 24/7 is not a viable or acceptable option. We are no longer eligible for homeowner’s insurance due to persistent sewage backups that invade our home, and for all practical purposes our home is not sellable. Yes, this is the fancy and beautiful Lawrence with manicured lawns and other amenities where taxes are sky-high. It makes one wonder what tax allocation would be more vital than meeting the basic need of effective infrastructural sewage operation within our community. Yes, new homes, renovated mansions, and luxurious apartment complexes are being built all around us, yet we still maintain the same outdated and inept sewer system, thereby exacerbating the situation for low-lying areas throughout the Village of Lawrence and nearby where there is no safe haven from sewage overflow.
So, as we install our fourth boiler, which is now suspended from the ceiling, and we have mounted a new washer and dryer on lifts, we are still trying to be creative about how to install water heaters up in the air. We are desperate to avoid an inevitable loss from a probable sewage attack that can happen at any time. Aside from the thousands of dollars of loss over the past twelve years, most heart-achingly, I stand here so saddened to have to pack the precious, now muck-riddled sefarim and siddurim for burial and am devastated to have to throw away those irreplaceable personal memories of my son along with the legacy of photos that my parents managed to salvage from the “alter heim” or pre-Holocaust era.
I can still smell the stench of the sewage that pervades our home while keeping in mind that we are yet so fortunate to still have our home while so many in the Rockaways, the Five Towns, and other areas are totally displaced. My heart goes out to those in that demoralizing predicament, and may Hashem give them the strength to prevail. But personally, I cannot blame Sandy or G‑d for the loss; I can only have tremendous disdain for those responsible for our political system in the Village of Lawrence and Nassau County. It is a failed system that chooses to ignore the need to rise to the obligation of a governing body whose first priority should be to provide sanitary living conditions within its magnificent community.
It’s Just Stuff
Boy, are we de-cluttered! I recently retired from my job of 25 years teaching for the DOE in NYC. Thus began my mantra that I was going to go through my “stuff,” in order to give away loads of teaching materials accumulated over many years. In truth, I did give some things away during August and early September; yet so much still remained in my basement in a myriad of storage containers and file boxes. As the familiar adage, “men tracht un Gut lacht—man plans and G‑d laughs,” all these books and materials were flooded and thus tossed out. So, while I planned to act, the task was taken from me.
For more than two weeks, we became wandering Jews, living out of backpacks and miscellaneous schlepper tote bags, even plastic garbage bags. It was bad enough being put up at various homes, we didn’t want to frighten our hosting families with large pieces of matched luggage; they might think we were staying indefinitely!
We brought our dirty laundry to Laundromats in the various neighborhoods and zip codes in which we found our beds. Each day, we returned to the cold, dark homestead where I boiled pots of water (on the gas stovetop) so that I could wash and sterilize the salvageable items. Wearing several layers of clothing, we worked until the darkness descended upon our homes, lighting yahrzeit candles for no other reason than to supply some light. My husband, Jeff, worked on making all the necessary calls for assistance, until his mobile phone was out of “juice.”
We were so focused on getting the sewage and floodwaters out with all the items that were soaked, that I neglected to take enough time to examine each bin as it traveled swiftly to the curbside. Needless to say, I do regret not having salvaged more “stuff.” (Remember the comedy routine delivered by George Carlin on people having too much stuff?) I know that as the year unfolds, and yomim tovim arrive, I will be seeking items that no longer exist in this household. I will miss my Chanukah decorations, oversized dreidels, and paper goods that were always in stock in the basement. I will miss the bin of Purim shtick, including hats, wigs, masks, and my favorite gragger. I will look for the imitation fruit and decorative garlands that I delighted in hanging in our sukkah. And woe to us all who need to replace sukkah walls and s’chach mats. As my husband keeps reminding me, it’s just stuff and can be replaced.
I’ve heard so many neighbors bemoaning the loss of family photos along with their most treasured mementos during the two weeks of post-storm cleanup. But what comes to mind is that b’H we are not holding our treasured items and boarding cattle cars to extermination points, as our ancestors did. G‑d took our “stuff,” but he didn’t take us. And for that we are ever so grateful.
This gives us a new appreciation for the mishnah in Pirkei Avos, “Eizeh hu ashir, hasameach b’chelko—the one who is rich is the one that is satisfied with what he has.” We now have lots less “stuff” and more to be grateful for.
As a yeshiva student I was taught that a rainbow sighted on the horizon was not a good omen. In fact, a rainbow is a reminder that the earth’s inhabitants are worthy of being inflicted with another mabul. After experiencing the tumultuous waters of Hurricane Sandy and its damaging effects, I think I’d rather have seen the rainbow!
At this writing, the washer, dryer, and extra refrigerator have all been replaced; after all, they are just things. The missing walls and unfinished floor are currently reminders that one’s home could never be totally whole and perfect, in remembrance of Churban Bayis. We are not whole without the Beis HaMikdash. And now, neither is our home.
Fact Or FEMA
I have just finished reading your November 23 article “Working with Angels.” I was heartened to read of the tremendous relief efforts that have been put forth by those in the Jewish community to help those, like myself, who were forced out of their homes due to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
However, what you have written about FEMA bears no resemblance to my personal experience as a Long Beach resident who was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
You quote Rachel Hess as saying “she finally got hold of someone at FEMA [I got through to a live person at FEMA within five minutes the very first time I called], who told her that her claim was being denied. The reason, they said, was that they had not been able to reach here on her home phone. The home is, of course, unlivable, and the phones in the house have not worked since the night of the storm more than three weeks ago.”
My heart goes out to Ms. Hess, who, like myself, is a hurricane victim. You, however, are a newspaper editor and as such should have done some fact-checking as to how FEMA actually operates before printing your follow-up statement.
In actuality, when someone applies to FEMA for disaster relief, FEMA asks the applicant for a contact phone number, e-mail address, temporary address, etc., at which FEMA can reach the disaster victim.
As for your statement, “All this does is demonstrate the vast cultural divide that exists when the good people of FEMA are dealing with hurricanes and tornadoes around the country and the issue at hand in Far Rockaway, the Five Towns, and Long Beach. I think I can state categorically that no one in these communities that needs this type of assistance has any designs on living in a FEMA trailer a day longer than necessary.”
Can you please elaborate on this “vast cultural divide” that would allegedly make living in a FEMA trailer desirable to anyone whose home has been destroyed? Anywhere?
As for the statement that as of last Monday FEMA had no plans of making trailers available, I know someone who was already living in a FEMA trailer last Monday!
Frankly, I am appalled at the level of fact-checking, or lack thereof, in your article, and I find your characterization of FEMA bears no resemblance to my personal experience with FEMA, or the experiences which have been conveyed to me by others I personally know whose homes have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Deborah J. Schneierson
Balancing Our Children’s Safety
In last week’s issue, Rabbi Shafran wrote an article in which he attempted to refute a suggestion made by a magazine in 2006 that the repressive nature of Judaism’s moral practices and teachings fosters the frequency of child abuse in the frum community. This argument seems to be predicated on an assumption that the chief complaint of those who are in an uproar over the child abuse incidents in the yeshivos is that these incidents occur more frequently in the frum community than in the general population. I do not believe that this is what people are complaining about.
The “rebbe profession” does not deserve to be tarnished by the finite number of “bad apples” who have engaged in such abuses. The reason people are angry is that they feel that some in the organized community leadership have not been judicious enough in protecting our children from these abusers. Indeed, rabbinical pronouncements have been issued that one may not report a child abuser to law enforcement unless the case was previously vetted by designated rabbis, even if the allegation is confirmed to be true. Such pronouncements have led many people to conclude that these leaders are balancing their responsibility to protect our children against other considerations.
Further, how does the assertion that child abuse in the frum community is not more prevalent than in other groups suffice as a defense? The Jewish People are supposed to be a light unto the nations. Simply put, frum people are supposed to be better.