Temple In Rockaways Struggles To Rebuild From Sandy As Hanukkah Starts
As Jews around the world begin the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, one synagogue is looking for a miracle to help them rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. NY1's Arlene Borenstein filed the following report.
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A decades-old Torah saved from the Holocaust sits safely in Rabbi Marjorie Slome's basement this Hanukkah. The rabbi said she removed the precious item from the West End Temple in the Rockaways just hours before Hurricane Sandy.
"We took the torahs out of the ark, we wrapped them in black plastic bags, brought them to Brooklyn," Slome said. "I thought 'OK, we've done what we could do.' It wasn't the storm we expected."
The temple was inundated with more than four feet of water. Pews were lifted, chairs were scattered and their nursery and religious school was badly damaged. They've been closed ever since.
"We went into the sanctuary and there were prayer books scattered all over the place," Slome said. "Books all over the place, sopping wet. Every single cushion on the pew was wet."
Slome said the temple's flood insurance won't be enough to cover more than $1 million in storm damage, and federal guidelines prevent the temple from asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help.
"FEMA, as I understand it, can't help because of church-state separation. There's some statutory schemes," said Ken Stern of the American Jewish Committee.
However, hundreds of volunteers have come to help from all walks of life, like the Mormon group who came to help in the cleanup, and a Belle Harbor priest, who opened up his church for the West End's congregation.
"The cleanup has been the most gratifying thing that I've ever seen or experienced in my life," Slome said.
The act of neighbors helping neighbors, Slome said, can bring a little light to those in despair this Hanukkah.
"We can celebrate our difference and, in some ways, Sandy made us all the same," she said.
Slome said the temple should reopen in about two months, but she still needs financial donations and volunteers. To help, go to urj.org.