‘The New Homeless’ In Long Beach

Two weeks after the hurricane, recovery is slow; trauma-support teams being called in.

11/14/12
Staff Writer
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Driving into Long Beach, L.I., on Park Avenue Monday, a portable sign flashed with the news: “You Can Now Flush Toilets.”

Outside the ice skating rink on Magnolia Boulevard, a line of people waited patiently for donated food, clothing and household supplies. Two weeks after the storm, many in this South Shore community — home to an estimated 10,000 Jews — still did not have electricity in their homes.

Walking to the docks, many of them broken, on the canal that runs behind her ranch home in adjacent Lido Beach, Felicia Solomon pointed to two homes in the distance.

“When the power was turned back on, those homes caught fire,” she said.

As she walked back into her home, workmen who were in the process of almost entirely gutting the house had taken a break to eat lunch on her patio. They had removed all the carpet from her home; the wood beams were exposed and the water-saturated wallboard had been cut away.

Salt water not only filled the four feet of crawl space under Solomon’s home during the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, but it flooded her house as well. But she was not there to witness it, having heeded the directive of local officials to evacuate before the storm hit Oct. 29.

“I have lived in this house with my husband, two kids and one dog for seven years, and it was here for 53 years before me — one man and three wives — and not a stitch of water,” Solomon said. “I feel like the new face of the homeless. It’s a terrible feeling.”

Gordon Tepper, a spokesman for the City of Long Beach, told The Jewish Week that virtually all the town’s 15,000 houses experienced at least some water damage in the storm; 100 are so damaged they cannot have their electricity restored.

A few doors away from Solomon’s home, a work crew with a front-end tractor and dump truck was picking up broken furniture, rugs, mattresses and other damaged household furnishings that had been piled on the sidewalk. Up and down the streets of Lido Beach and Long Beach lay other mounds of debris awaiting pickup.

Not far away at Temple Israel of Long Beach, six waterlogged Torahs were unrolled and lying across chairs.

“We’re trying to dry them out, but it’s difficult to tell if it will work,” explained Rabbi David Bauman. “I’ll be having a sofer [scribe] look at them. But they were sitting in salt water for 72 hours. We couldn’t get back into the building because it all happened so fast.”

The Torahs had been in the ark in the chapel on the lower level of the synagogue, which is below ground. 

“We are two-and-a-half to three blocks from the ocean and we had 10 feet of water in here, with surges that could have been as high as 12 or 13 feet, depending on the location in the building,” Rabbi Bauman said. “That’s what the Army Corps of Engineers told us based on the water marks. The lower level was where we have our library, the chapel, dairy kitchen, mechanical room and classrooms. That all has to be gutted.”

He said his 150-unit independent traditional congregation had no power or heat and the “toxicity downstairs does not allow us to be in the building.”

But he said he hoped that the cleanup effort now underway would allow use of the building by Shabbat.

“We have a professional crew in there that started last week, and on Sunday we had over 100 volunteers from all over the New York area, including a couple of guys who came from my unit,” Rabbi Bauman said, referring to his work as a reserve Navy chaplain.

Asked if anyone had considered moving the Torahs from the ark before the storm struck, the rabbi replied: “It’s easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback, but in the 90-plus years of this synagogue we have never had a need to move them — we have never had a problem. In the past, there may have been a foot or two — but no one ever thought of 10 feet.”

Adina Frydman, executive director of Synergy: UJA-Federation of New York and Synagogues Together, was in Long Beach and Oceanside Monday meeting with some of the rabbis whose synagogues have undergone the worst damage.

“We’re trying to connect them with as much information as possible about the resources that exist from our agencies and from the government,” she said. “For example, we are trying to connect them with the New York Legal Action Group, which has pro bono lawyers that will help them get the maximum insurance and government reimbursements.”

Frydman said that throughout the five boroughs and Long Island there are 45 synagogues that were impacted by the storm and that within a week after the storm, Synergy had given their rabbis $5,000 each in initial emergency funds.

“There will be more funding,” she said. “And in the longer term, we are trying to find ways to bring trauma support teams here to train rabbis in how to help congregants. Many rabbis themselves have also sustained significant trauma, even if their own homes were not affected, because many of them have had to hold up their communities singlehandedly — and they have to be supported.”

Not only are social workers being called upon from within the UJA-Federation network, Frydman said, but Synergy is working with rabbis from New Orleans who were part of the post-Katrina effort to learn from their “experience and expertise.” In addition, the head of the Israel Trauma Coalition, Tali Levanon, was scheduled to arrive this week; members of her team will also be flying in to help.

“They will guide us in how to do long-term trauma relief,” she said. “They have worked in communities all around the world, and now they are offering help to us.”

The congregations Frydman said she has reached out to include Temple Emanuel of Long Beach, which, sustained “hundreds of thousands dollars in damage” and has no flood insurance, according to its president, Susan Hirschbein. Even the leak in the roof that damaged the second-floor classrooms is not covered by insurance.

“We’d only be covered if the entire roof blew off,” she said she was told.

Neil Bogel, chairman of the 210-family Reform congregation’s strategic planning committee, said that the congregation has a 100-student state-certified preschool program that has not met since the storm.

“We are trying to reopen if we could make repairs or move into another facility,” he said.

Inside the synagogue, the water-soaked carpeting in the entrance, ballroom and lobby has already been removed; it has yet to be removed from the sanctuary, where Hirschbein said water had been as high as the seats in the pews.

The congregation’s rabbi, Bennett Hermann, said that if inspectors say the air is OK in the building, he would like to have services there Friday night.

“But I was getting hoarse just being in the building the other day because of all the mold,” he said.

Not only is he dealing with the condition of the synagogue, but Rabbi Hermann said he also has had congregants whose homes burned to the ground. One of them, he said, he has been unable to reach.

“I keep calling his cell phone and not getting an answer,” he said.

Frydman said she is trying to connect impacted synagogues with those in Manhattan that have not been affected and are in a position to help.

“We are also trying to coordinate the efforts of synagogues that want to help,” she said. “There is a lot of goodwill and people are sending supplies and volunteers, but they don’t know where to go. Supplies have been sent back, because they are not what are needed. So it’s important to reach out to our volunteer website (ujafedny.org/hurricane-sandy-volunteer-opportunities).”

At the ice rink, Bob Piazza, Long Beach’s park’s commissioner, said the city has “stopped accepting donations so we can catch up with sorting what we have.”

He pointed to unsorted bags of clothing that filled half the rink’s bleachers.

“It’s estimated to be in excess of 40 tons,” he said.

“We’ve taken in food and household goods and cleaning supplies, and as there is a demand for it we run it out [to those on line],” he said.

Piazza said they are planning to send what is not needed to other communities that can use it.

Helping to sort the clothing by gender and size were six families from Great Neck.

“We came with our moms and brothers and sisters,” said Orli Cole, 14. “We were looking to volunteer for something, and we learned of this online.”

Jacky Kislin, also 14, said they had all volunteered the previous week in Brooklyn.

“In the last two weeks, we have had one day of school,” she said.

In front of the ice rink, staffers from FEGS were handing out bagels, cream cheese and juice to those in need. Nearby, Felicia Solomon’s 24-year-old son, Zach, was handing out new blankets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks and flashlight batteries. He said he thought of the idea after remembering that a friend had started a nonprofit to help Katrina victims. Because time was of the essence, he decided to ask for cash instead of donations of supplies.

“Within the first 48 hours after I sent out 150 e-mails, we had raised nearly $10,000,” Solomon said. “We used it to buy 500 blankets, and we have a lot more money left to buy other things.” 

Last Update:

11/16/2012 - 13:46

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I am shocked and appalled at what happened to the Torah scrolls in the synagogues. Within living memory, Jews still risked their lives to save, preserve and rescue these scrolls; specifically during the Holocaust. Those Jews who would shield a Torah with their own bodies against Nazi abuse were continuing a tradition at least a millennium old, that treats a Torah with absolute dignity and respect, as if it were a living and venerated member of the community. Yet the residents of these wealthy Five Towns communities all fled their homes without giving a thought to the safety of their sacred and supposedly most prized possessions. I wonder what their grandparents would have thought about that. Not much, I'm sure, and neither do I.

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