We have much to be proud of in the Jewish community and in the larger general one in which we live. Both communal organizations and public institutions responded magnificently to the dangers posed by Hurricane Irene and to the damage it left behind. Even the public utilities did – and continue to do – a remarkable job restoring services to affected homes and businesses.
Deserving of special mention are the several score of volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians who left their own homes and families to provide aid and comfort to countless strangers. One such volunteer, Joe Massuda of Edgewater, who is both an EMT and a firefighter in his spare time, left his home in mid-afternoon on Saturday, only a couple of hours after returning from Shabbat services. He did not come home again until nearly 10 p.m. on Sunday. His is just one of the many stories of the unsung ordinary people who do extraordinary things for the rest of us.
Jewish agencies rose to the occasion (see our coverage on pages 6 and 7), as well. All of the Jewish Family Service offices in our area saw to it that meals were delivered to the homebound who depend on them. On Monday, offices were open to meet with people needing help – even though some of those offices lacked power.
The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey manned its phones after the storm, seeking to assess needs and to assure both individuals and institutions that they were not alone; help was at hand. David Gad-Harf, JFNNJ’s chief operating officer, said of the outreach effort, “I’m so glad we did this.” We are as glad as he. We agree with him that people “needed moral support from the Jewish community” at such a critical moment. We are grateful that they received that support.
Rabbis and synagogues also are to be commended for their outreach efforts. From Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner at Temple Emanu-El in Closter to Rabbi Randall Mark at Shomrei Torah in Wayne, rabbis sent e-mails, made phone calls, and even “Twitted” congregants in an effort to help those in need.
It is all the more disturbing, therefore, to learn that the helping hand was not as extended as it should have been in Ridgewood. As Lois Goldrich’s article beginning on page 6 states (and as the picture on that page graphically illustrates), the parking lot of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center was submerged in water.
According to an article by Ridgewood Patch editor James Kleimann on Aug. 28, “Affected houses of worship have been offered assistance by Ridgewood.” That is the message the village wanted everyone to hear, but when Temple Israel asked the village for help cleaning out the muddy residue of the flood, what it heard from Ridgewood officials was no.
After the first rejection, Rabbi David Fine asked again. “The mud is not ours,” he wrote in a letter to village officials, “and the Ridgewood [fire department] advised us that it contains sewage matter from Waldwick and as such presents a potential public health risk.”
Again, the answer was no. The rabbi was told that the village was overwhelmed with higher priority emergencies and, besides, “the Fire Department might have exaggerated the health hazard,” Fine said. In the end, the synagogue brought in its own cleanup crew.
The parking lot is only part of the story, however. There was also the fact that the synagogue’s “electrical equipment was sitting in three feet of water and power was still running in the building,” Fine said. The Fire Department told Fine that “the building was dangerous, stay out, and try to get the water out,” but otherwise refused any help.
There are many examples of why we should be proud in the wake of Irene. The Ridgewood case is not one of them. We would like to know why.