An ill wind
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An ill wind

A crisis in our own backyard

Jewish groups across North Jersey rallied this week to provide what aid they could to the thousands left without power after this weekend’s nor’easter.

“Unfortunately, over the past several months we’ve had crises in Haiti and Chile and now we have a crisis right here in our own backyard,” said Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

The federation last year created its economic crisis fund to help those hurt by the economy. Through Jewish Family Service of North Jersey in Wayne and Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson in Teaneck, UJA-NNJ has opened the fund to aid those in need after the storm. But even as people regained power and began to assess damages this week, Charish said that the full extent and how much aid is needed won’t be known for a few more weeks.

“Some people are still absorbing the shock of the situation and the fact that they’ve been displaced for several days,” he said. “There’s an uncertainty in their lives about whether they’ll get back into their own homes.”

Requests for help from the economic crisis fund last year increased as the recession continued and people exhausted their own resources. JFS is expecting a similar reaction from victims of the storm.

“It takes a while to set in,” said Anne Lieberman, director of clinical services at the Fair Lawn branch of JFS of North Jersey. “People don’t immediately call for help; they try to solve [the problems] themselves first.”

The community has been very supportive of those in need because of this crisis, said Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS of Bergen.

Earlier in the week Teaneck Kosher, despite not having electricity of its own, offered free dinners on the Teaneckshuls listserv to people without electricity. The store rented a generator, according to patrons, in order to provide this service.
In an e-mail to The Jewish Standard, township resident Rivka Fink praised Teaneck Kosher, formerly Teaneck Glatt, for the help the store provided her, her husband Andy, and their five children.

“In the midst of this devastating storm a beacon of light shone through for the community,” she wrote. “The new Teaneck Glatt Store on Teaneck Road offered any family free dinner for those still having a blackout. How we (& our kids!) so appreciated this very generous offer & delicious fresh food.”

Reached on Thursday, Fink said the store performed “a real chesed,” kindness.
OHEL, a national agency that provides services to families of abused, neglected, and disabled Jewish children, opened its Teaneck center to the community. Beginning on Tuesday, OHEL offered free counseling services, Internet connections, and outlets for people to charge their phones and laptops, as well as coffee and pastries.

“OHEL has a great deal of expertise in treating victims of trauma,” said Manny Wertman, OHEL’s chief operating officer. “We’re using that agency strength to offer support to the Teaneck community.”

About 10 people had come in by Wednesday, said Wendy Levites, assistant to executive director Donny Frank.

“This is a very giving community,” she said, adding that she had heard of people delivering food and other staples to neighbors in need.

The storm was “such a shocker” to the community, she said. “Everybody’s traumatized by it. It’s so comforting to know … that people are reaching out and asking, ‘Do you have enough food?'”

JFS of Bergen has received several requests from single mothers looking for Wetvacs and volunteers to help clean up, Fedder said.

“Right now everybody’s just trying to dry out and hoping to have their lights on,” she said.

With a little more than a week to go before Passover, Fedder said many families now face the possibility of having to start their holiday shopping all over again because of spoiled food caused by power outages.

“It can be a big deal,” she said, noting that she expects to see people coming in for help because of this. For the most part, though, many people are still trying to figure out what their needs are, she said.

“In a week or two the financial impact will begin to hit people more as things settle down,” she said.

When people have a better idea of just what their needs are, Charish said, JFS and other community organizations will be ready.

“We are here in the short term and if there are longer term issues we will be here as well,” he said.

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