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We Shall Overcome

By Hannah Reich Berman

Monday evening, 9:00 p.m., October 29, 2012 is a day, date, and time that many of us will never forget. The storm, known as Hurricane Sandy, had raged for hours, but at 9:00 p.m., which was high tide, we got the shock of our lives. The “we” refers to the currently hapless East Coast souls who live what we formerly considered a safe distance from the water. When we say water, we’re referring to the Atlantic Ocean. But we learned differently Monday night. There’s no such thing as a safe distance from that powerful ocean if there is even one small or narrow body of water nearby that connects to it somewhere.

As a result, those of us near water that we call inlets, ponds, or creeks got the shock of our lives as water came racing down our streets and rushing into our homes. We lost our vehicles, and even those who managed, after a few hours (in some cases it was days), to get the water pumped out of our basements or—much worse—first floors, still, as of today, have no power.

And, although it doesn’t feel that way, we are the lucky ones!

Some lost their homes entirely and others, tragically, lost their lives. We mourn for them and, in spite of the hardships we’re currently enduring, we’re counting our blessings and are grateful to Hashem that we survived. This, however, doesn’t alter the fact that our days, as well as our nights, are difficult.

Today, more than a week later, we’re still without power. And here I have an embarrassing confession to make: Previously, whenever I thought of power (if I ever thought about it) I thought of lights, television, refrigeration, stove, and oven—but not necessarily in that order. Of course, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. (And possibly my reference to iceberg has to do with the fact that at one point I felt as if we were aboard the Titanic!) Regarding that power that I once so rarely thought about, I seem to have overlooked the fact that a loss of power also means no Internet, heat, hot water, or phone service—and added to that are the sad facts that we lost our vehicles and that our expenses will be astronomical.

When flooding is involved, insurance companies are notorious for the following responses: We don’t cover this and We don’t cover that. I’ll remember not to call them again unless my toilet overflows, because that seems to be the extent of my flooding coverage! I was told, however, not to worry because my homeowners’ policy should take care of it. To me, the defining word in that last sentence is should. At this point, as I wait for adjusters to contact me, I do worry! And that’s another word that’s troubling me at this point—contact. Few are able to contact me.

I can’t just sit at my daughter’s home all day, which is where I’ve been comfortably stationed for a week, because I need to be at my house directing the workers who are assisting me in cleaning up the mess that’s there. And the problem with that is that I have little cell-phone service. I can’t call out, and only a few callers get through to me! I’m getting the sense that, even with insurance, and even if an adjuster does ever get to contact me, it’s going to end up costing a bundle.

If all of that isn’t enough, we still have no idea when we’ll be getting our power back. In spite of gratitude, it’s difficult not to have an attitude and it can be hard to smile these days. But we need to try. And so I try. In so doing, I hope I might put a smile on your face as you read on—that is, if you have enough light to read at all.

As I drove down the street yesterday—in a borrowed car, of course—there were some sights that cheered me. I spotted groups of people standing and chatting in front of their homes. Folks who, for one reason or another, haven’t spoken to one another in years have suddenly become BFFs. It occurs to me that this may be a sign of hashgachah pratis (for the uninitiated, that means that everything happens for a reason). Because these people have to stay home and wait for workers to come pump smelly water out of their homes, they can’t go anywhere. And even if one of them wanted to go somewhere for a few minutes, without cars they have no way to get there.

So people step outside every few hours to chat with neighbors and to rehash what they went through the night the storm came to town. When they tire of that, they commiserate with one another about their losses and ask inane questions of each other, such as When do you think we’ll get our power back? That’s amusing, because the questioners know that this (new) friend that he’s asking has no clue. But he asks anyway.

Another reason people come out into the sunshine is that their homes are cold, damp, and dark. And we’re learning, the hard way, that there are many different types of blessing in this world. Four new ones that have been recently added to my list are candles, flashlights, battery-operated radios, and “D” batteries. A fifth blessing would be the ability to speak Spanish! Foolishly, I opted for Latin, German, and French in high school, but I’ve yet to encounter a single worker who communicates in any of those languages. Nor do most of the workers, my current saviors, do well with English. In frustration, I sometimes find myself speaking Hebrew and even Yiddish. But Julio and Carlos don’t speak those either.

Along with everyone else, I continue to learn lessons from this horrifying experience. I learned a newfound respect for the Amish, a people who voluntarily eschew electricity. The difficulty in driving without traffic lights is unimaginable. But then the Amish don’t use cars, and maybe horses and buggies aren’t quite so dependent on traffic lights. Initially, drivers were incredibly courteous. We waved other drivers on when our paths crossed at an intersection but, as our frustration grows, some of that courtesy is beginning to wear off. Gas is scarce because, for some long involved reason, the ships carrying the gas have been unable to get to our ports and the little gas we have left is sitting idle because the pumps aren’t working. For that reason, no one wants to waste a single drop of it sitting and waiting at an intersection for 20 or 30 cars to pass. So much for safety these days!

That describes the streets, but front lawns and back yards are another story. Many are littered with water snakes and eels, and a few folks found carp. The kids get a charge out of seeing eels and snakes up close. The carp is less disgusting to look at than the other two water dwellers, but they’re a waste because nobody is in the mood to cook gefilte fish right now. Nor do they have the means to cook even if they were inclined to make some use of the carp! And just for the record, since I doubt that the fish were living in these dirty creeks and ponds, that’s my proof that the Atlantic Ocean did, after all, get to us.

My street in Woodmere became a brief tourist attraction on that first Tuesday and Wednesday, because Arbuckle, Barnard, Church, and Derby Avenues (or, as they were known years ago, the A B C streets) all have egress to the main drag, Peninsula Boulevard, only via Church Avenue. Therefore, all evacuations were made using the Church Avenue route. People came in droves, many with cameras, and stood at the dry spot on the corner, gaping in astonishment at what was once a street but was now a lake! Without cars, what else did the locals have to do but walk and gawk? As an attraction, Church Avenue was, for those two days, rivaled only by Disney World, the Grand Canyon, and Masada. Once the water receded, so did the tourists.

As of this writing, being done courtesy of my son-in-law’s computer, I still don’t have a vehicle to call my own. After an attempt to rent a car, I learned that there are hundreds of others ahead of me. Apparently I didn’t move (or swim) over to the car rental company quickly enough. At this point I’d settle for a sturdy two-wheeler that I could call my own. It’s silly to wait for the adjuster to contact me. Whatever the insurance company will give me they will give, but I’m not waiting. The time has come to lease a car. Prior to this, Hubby and I owned our vehicles. He felt it made more sense. I still don’t know if he was correct, but I’ll be leasing my next car and I hope that Hubby will understand. There’s no rush to start paying for a lease, however, until gas becomes more available.

Everyone is experiencing the concern, love, and generosity of relatives. My children have been amazing and I seriously don’t want to seem unappreciative but right about now I’m not doing too well. The temperature is dropping daily, and yesterday, after a week of no heat, another one of my daughters moved in with her family. The Klamperts have nothing on us. We’re living like the Beverly Hillbillies and I’m considering creating a new show!

After a week of living in close quarters with several young children, my nerves are frayed. It’s not just the children and their roughhousing that present a challenge. Living out of bags is also no pleasure. My suitcase is no longer viable after having floated in the four feet of nasty water that filled my basement, and drawer space is limited. Every time I go back to my house, I think of other items that I need to have with me at my current quarters. I always save a few supermarket shopping bags and the store that I shop at uses bright canary-yellow plastic bags, so that’s what I stuff the items into. I not only resemble a bag lady, I resemble one that can be seen a mile away. When all this is over I might just work up enough nerve to ask the store management to consider using a softer, paler color.

Just in case anyone is interested (and I don’t know why anyone would be) after the water was pumped out of my basement I learned, by checking the water line, that it was exactly four and a half feet deep. The bottom line is that, like almost everyone else around here, my life can be seen lying out in a pile in front of my house, everything ruined and waiting to be picked up by the sanitation department. My camera went missing so my friend took pictures that I might need to show to the insurance adjuster. Hopefully he’ll arrive before he’s too old to see! Meanwhile my house remains cold, dark, and damp—a veritable castle!

Communication—the lack of it—continues to bother me. At my age, cherished friends provide a wonderful support system, and without phone or Internet service, there are many I can’t easily reach—my sister, my cousins, and my “go-to” friends among them. And speaking of support, I asked Hashem to give me extra strength, but it appears I wasn’t too clear when I asked because he seems to have misunderstood me. What I got was extra weight! I never do well in someone else’s home, especially a home where snack foods (meant for the children) are available.

My eating these past several days has had nothing whatsoever to do with hunger. I’ve been eating for comfort, and carrots and cauliflower just can’t do for me what cake and cookies can. I won’t even get into the number of chips I’ve consumed here. If I ever get back to a Weight Watchers meeting and get on that scale, I’ll find myself with an entirely different reason to be depressed. But let me fool you not! I’m sad but not depressed (at least not all of the time). As the late Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We shall overcome.” If he could do it so can we all. But I do wish all those that are truly suffering an easier time of it. We all wish it for you. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.

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Posted by on November 8, 2012. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.