Jewish Community Largely Spared In Irene
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Jewish Community Largely Spared In Irene

The storm that brought 65-mile-per-hour winds to the New York area has moved on, leaving behind something quieter: a collective sigh of relief.

“Everybody activated their emergency plans; those plans all ran smoothly,” said Lindsay Goldman, director of UJA-Federation of New York’s J-11 Information and Referral Center, which helps coordinate the efforts of federation-funded social services agencies. “Everybody is safe and well. Thank God the storm wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.”

Downgraded to a tropical storm soon after it hit New York City Sunday morning, Irene caused billions of dollars in damage and numerous deaths as it moved up the East Coast, including a woman from the Borough Park section of Brooklyn who was vacationing upstate, according to the JTA.

Yet by Monday, many of those who live, work and pray even in waterfront neighborhoods slammed by the storm in the New York area were saying it could have been worse.

Damage to synagogues was minimal at most, according to early reports from members of the interdenominational New York Board of Rabbis, said the group’s executive vice-president, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik. He added that he might not know of synagogues struggling with more severe storm-related problems simply because they wouldn’t be able to respond to him yet.

The synagogues he did hear from had implemented emergency procedures to ensure that congregants received needed medicine, meals and visitors despite the storm, Rabbi Potasnik said.

Goldman, whose post at J-11 enables her to monitor the efforts of 100 agencies including the Metropolitan Jewish Health System and Jewish Association of Services for the Aged said she knew of no service disruptions over the weekend although some elderly and disabled clients were evacuated from low-lying areas.

“It was not as bad as we expected it to be,” said Bruce Sklover, president of the Conservative Temple Israel of Long Beach, located on the South Shore of Long Island, which took some of the worst pounding in the New York area.

Likewise, synagogues near the water in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach neighborhoods sustained little damage. The congregants and others who found shelter Friday and Saturday night in the New Brighton Jewish Center volunteered to move five cases of holy books and two Torahs from a basement study hall, said its synagogue president, Michael Ekster.

Long Beach’s Orthodox Bach Jewish Center did have to pump out its basement on Monday, said Rabbi Eli Goodman.

“We got off pretty lucky,” he said.

Shabbat itself escaped relatively unscathed due to the storm’s arrival on Sunday, although Irene did blow some services slightly off course. Synagogues such as Temple Israel and Manhattan Beach Jewish Center both cancelled Sunday morning services.

In other ways, too, the storm’s timing was fortuitous, several rabbis and synagogue presidents pointed out.

“Camp just ended,” said Jay Haies, chairman of the board at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center. “And school doesn’t start for another two weeks.”

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