Weathering Irene
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Weathering Irene

Two Jews among 33 deaths, but for most, storm was a costly annoyance

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The parking lot of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood was turned into a river, “with actual white rapids at some points,” said its rabbi, David Fine. Courtesy Rabbi David Fine

For some in the Jewish community, Hurricane Irene was a soggy inconvenience.

For others, it became a moment to extend a helping hand – in at least one case, tragically.

Throughout the tristate area, tragedies were at a minimum, but the few tragedies that there were nevertheless were major ones for the families involved.

David Reichenberg, a 50-year-old Orthodox Jewish father of four from Spring Valley, N.Y., died saving a father and his six-year-old son from a downed power line. Reichenberg came into contact with the live wire and was electrocuted. He was one of at least two Jews who were reported killed by the storm.

The other, Rozalia Gluck, 82, was trapped in a Catskills motel that was swept away by flood waters during the storm. Authorities recovered her body late Sunday.

By late Monday, 33 deaths in 10 states were attributed to Hurricane Irene, The Associated Press reported.

Reichenberg’s death came after he stopped to help a Jewish boy and his father who had been viewing damage outside their home in Rockland County, N.Y. The boy had touched a metal fence electrified by a fallen wire. Reichenberg pulled the two from the fence, but could not escape himself, according to an eyewitness.

Reichenberg was buried Sunday night. The injured boy was reported to be in critical but stable condition as of Monday. His father suffered only minor injuries.

Even before the storm struck, the Jewish community attempted to prepare for the worst.

Officials offered both practical and religious counsel in preparation for the hurricane. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) issued hurricane preparation guides. The Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias {Ed. Note: it means "What’s New?") posted halachic guidelines issued years ago by the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and others for what to do on the Sabbath in the event of a hurricane.

Lindsay Goldman, the director of UJA-Federation of New York’s J-11 Information Referral Center, reported that the philanthropy had advised its partner agencies to activate their emergency protocols, many of which were created only in recent years by federation grants, and were co-coordinating agencies to assist one another. As of Monday morning, she said, all agencies had reported that they were open.

The URJ and B’nai B’rith International both opened Hurricane relief funds to collect donations for hurricane aid. Rhonda Love, the director of B’nai B’rith’s Center for Community Action, said that even though this disaster occurred in the densely Jewish East Coast, aid will remain consistent with past natural disaster relief efforts – based on need, not creed. "We’ll work where there’s any opportunity to help," Love said.

The committee that will allocate the URJ funds is currently reviewing damage reports from congregations but will give according to the needs of "congregations, Jewish communities, or larger communities," a spokesman said. Those decisions will be made in the next week or two, the spokesman added.

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