When Jews need help, Tidewater responds

by | Jan 11, 2013 | Uncategorized

A destroyed home in the Seagate community on Coney Island.

A destroyed home in the Seagate community on Coney Island.

More than two months have passed since Hurricane Sandy brought heavy rain, high winds and flooding to the east coast of the United States.

For Tidewater residents, the storm marked another near-miss in the yearly threatening roster of storms, and the memory of its impact lessens daily. In parts of the northeast, however, Sandy’s devastation and destruction can’t be forgotten: thousands of homes are destroyed, residents live in temporary housing, countless businesses have closed and communities are forever changed.

The majority of the American Jewish population lives in states to the north of Tidewater: about 44 percent, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures, and many Jews here count relatives and friends among those residents. As reports began to pour in to the northeastern Jewish Federations in the hours preceding the storm and the days following, the number of Jewish citizens, schools, businesses, houses of worship and organizations affected grew exponentially, and the Tidewater Jewish community readied itself to help.

The Judaic value system of assisting others in times of need, of comforting the sick and feeding the hungry, of being a part of something larger than just one’s self, is considered an integral part of what makes the small population of Jews in the area seem so much larger, according to leaders in the community.

“When there’s a crisis, we think about what we can do,” says Harry Graber, executive vice-president of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. “And whether we’re close enough to hear our people’s cries for help or not, we can still help, and act as a community, coalescing our resources to help in the best ways we can.”

At a UJFT board meeting held soon after the storm struck, members voted to allocate $5,000 immediately to the New York Jewish Federation, and to allow that organization to use the funds as needed.

“Tidewater responds in times of crisis, both individually and as a Federation,” says Alvin Wall, UJFT president.

“As members of the Jewish community, we have a responsibility to help our fellow Jews whenever and wherever they are. We honor this commitment and have demonstrated it in the past—in places like Ethiopia, and now—in New York and New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy relief, and In Israel, by donating to the terror relief effort during the current crisis there—and I have no doubts that we’ll do it in the future too. It is who we are.”

In addition to the funds released by the Federation’s board, additional donations from Tidewater were made by individuals who gave online, through the Hurricane Sandy Relief mailbox posted on the front page of JewishVa.org (the UJFT website), by the William and Norma Tiefel Fund of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation, and by individuals who collected goods and made special trips up north to help however they could.

Overseeing the Jewish community’s fundraising efforts and subsequent allocations is the Jewish Federations of North America, of which the UJFT is a member. The JFNA is the largest single Jewish philanthropy in existence, representing and serving North American Jewry’s primary fund-raising and service-providing agencies, a network of 155 Jewish federations and more than 300 smaller independent communities.

Since it opened the national Hurricane Sandy Relief mailbox, more than $6.7 million donations have been received. The JFNA Emergency Committee continues to monitor and allocate funds as necessary and is investigating medium and long-term recovery needs for storm-damaged communities.

“The outpouring of support for victims of Hurricane Sandy speaks volumes about who we are as a people, and what we stand for as a community,” says Cheryl Fishbein, chair of JFNA’s Emergency Committee. “Now that we’ve addressed the most immediate situations, we need to turn towards recovery and rebuilding. There will still be significant needs after Hurricane Sandy disappears from the daily headlines.”

Gifts made to the UJFT Annual Campaign help local and national goals of improving Jewish life and communities here, for neighbors in the U.S., in Israel and around the world. To find out more, to volunteer, and to make a gift, visit www.jewishva.org.

by Laine M. Rutherford