When congregants at the Young Israel of Oceanside returned to their synagogue three days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the New York-New Jersey coastline, they found the ark in their basement chapel overturned and floating in almost 5 ½ feet of water.
Three Torahs were still inside. Bookshelves had collapsed, spilling books into the water. Others were near collapse.
In all, the congregation lost more than 2,000 books that were in the chapel, the library and main sanctuary. It is too early to know if the Torahs can ever be used again; a scribe is still inspecting them.
In anticipation of the storm, congregants had moved onto three-foot-high tables books that had been on shelves close to the floor. They knew a canal is only two blocks away, but no one had ever dreamed of flooding of this magnitude. When they returned to the chapel, the only items not waterlogged were books on upper shelves, books that floated on other books and the Eternal Light.
“We had water running through the hallway,” said Barry Boshnack, the congregation’s house chairman. “As water flowed into the main sanctuary, the caretaker removed congregants’ tallit bags that were stored in racks under their seats.”
As Stuart Tauber, senior vice president of UJA-Federation of New York, toured the synagogue late last week, Boshnack showed him the wooden spindles from the waterlogged Torahs that had broken apart.
“All of these wood pieces will be buried along with the books,” Boshnack said.
Inside the sanctuary, all of the carpeting had been removed and about four feet of the wood-paneled walls were cut from the bottom because of the flooding. The wood pews were still drying.
A generator is providing heat and light to the building.
Fear of looting kept many people from leaving their homes in the storm-ravaged South Shore of Nassau County. Volunteers from UJA-Federation going door-to-door to check on families after the storm found people with baseball bats ready to protect their homes.
“We paid for private security to protect homes in Bayswater, Queens,” said Arnie Preminger, president of the Friedberg JCC in Oceanside, L.I. “A lot of people are living on the second floor of their [flood-damaged] homes.”
He said that not only do they want to protect them from vandals, there is not enough alternative housing.
Preminger said that in one home they visited, they “found an elderly couple whose home had been destroyed and who were living there, frost-bitten,” he said, adding that the volunteers arranged for them to be hospitalized.
“JASA has also been driving around checking on its clients,” he added, referring to the UJA-Federation agency that works with the aging in the New York area.
Ted Richman, chairman of the board of the Friedberg JCC, said that despite flooding that made the JCC’s building unusable, its early childhood program for 500 youngsters was relocated to synagogues in Rockville Centre and Merrick and was operational within days of the storm.
“If that wasn’t done, someone in those families wouldn’t be able to return to work,” he said.
Linda Landskowky walked around her neighbor’s car to get to her front steps. She had let him park it in their driveway because it is on higher ground than his and he wanted to keep it from being damaged in Hurricane Sandy. Not only did the car get caught in the storm surge from Sandy, but it actually floated onto Landskowky’s front lawn.
The water from the canal a block away also surged into Landskowky’s home, destroying everything in the lower level.
Workers have already stripped it to the beams and cut five feet off the bottom of the wallboards in the den, a fourth bedroom, laundry room, bathroom and closets. Outside the sliding glass doors of the den, some of the former furnishings — including family photo albums and the children’s college yearbooks — sat on the lawn and backyard patio that had been buckled by the water. Some, like the couch, have already been carted away.
“I need a new oil burner,” Landskowsky said. “But the manager of my oil company says he can’t service us because he has too many service calls. We’ve been loyal customers for 33 years and now he says he can’t come.”
Her husband, Ted, said he is concerned that the “pipes will freeze” if a new boiler isn’t installed soon.
“This was my den,” his wife said as she walked through the room, almost in disbelief. “The wall-to-wall carpeting, the TV, washing machine, dryer — all gone. And whatever decent clothing I had in the closets down here is filthy and smelly. And everything in our garage is also gone.”
“We now have our electric power back but no heat in the house,” Linda Landskowsky said.
Their next-door neighbors, who also had no heat, were standing around a fire pit in their backyard trying to get warm.
“We have no flood insurance,” Landskowsky said. “For 33 years we have lived here and never had water in the house. When we first bought it, we had a mortgage and were required to have flood insurance. But we paid off the mortgage and figured we didn’t need flood insurance because we had never had a drop of water. Now, so much is lost.”
Sharon Spund looked out her living room bay windows and recalled the scene the evening the super storm hit Oct. 29.
“My husband and I were standing here and the water was running like a river down the street — dark water running from right to left. We had our two cars parked in the driveway and the water rose over the rear wheels. The car alarms went off and the lights flashed on and off and then both cars shorted out. They’re a total loss.
“And we watched as the water ran across our property, into the garage, up our two front steps and under our front door. In the back of the house, it poured in from everywhere — under the door and even through the walls. Then it went into the basement.”
As the water raced into the basement, Spund said she and her husband, Mark, removed pictures and anything else she could easily move to the second floor. But we couldn’t rescue everything. I had 4 ½ feet of water in here,” she said as she stepped down into the basement. “This was a finished basement. Here is a picture I took of my refrigerator floating in the water down here.”
“I wasn’t concerned,” she said. “I’ve lived here 27 years. We’ve had a little water from a bad rain a couple of times, but it always dissipated.”
Spund said she has a mortgage and flood insurance.
“It was overwhelming, to see the water rushing in,” she added. “It was scary. I was astounded at how deep it was.”
Spund said she lost a number of Jewish holy books that she plans to bring to the nearby Young Israel of Oceanside for burial. One truckload of destroyed holy books have already been taken from the Young Israel for burial and Boshnack said they are waiting for congregants to bring more destroyed holy books in the days ahead before shipping those away for burial.