It’s been two and a half months since the storm, and now as congregations like this try to rebuild, they have to wade through a legal and bureaucratic morass just to do so.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
Rabbi Marjorie Slome has presided as rabbi at this shul for the past eight years. When she heard Hurricane Sandy was headed toward her building just blocks away from the water, she and her staff covered valuables with plastic tablecloths.
Instead of a leaky roof, flood water rushed into the building as the storm surge pushed a wall of water inland, inundating the basement and ground floor.
This small congregation, which serves around 90 families in the Rockaway section of Queens, became just one of thousands of buildings in New York City devastated by the storm.
Since then, Rabbi Slome and her congregation, joined by dozens of volunteers, have worked to clean up the building. Donations have helped finance the effort.
Paneling has been removed from the walls, electrical sockets secured, floors pulled up, windows repaired. Pews, tiles, and books have been salvaged and cleaned.
Fortunately, the West End Temple has a $1 million flood insurance policy, but when the insurance company sent out an assessor, his response was: "You have way more than a million dollars worth of damage here."
And so as Rabbi Slome is trying to care for her congregation, she is also looking for financial help.
In the United States, when natural disasters strike, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) steps in to help. After Hurricane Sandy, they were out in full force across the region.
FEMA also acts as a conduit for federal dollars by way of public assistance grants. Private non-profit organizations like museums and zoos are listed as eligible beneficiaries.
But in a country where the separation of church and state is considered sacred, houses of worship are not on the list.
Marc Stern is general counsel at the American Jewish Committee. He says some 40 congregations in New York have applied for FEMA grants, and he is confident that FEMA will support congregations like West End Temple.
In an email statement to JewishNewsOne, a spokesperson for FEMA wrote: “FEMA may provide assistance to repair or replace facilities owned or operated by an eligible nonprofit organization that provides essential services of a governmental nature. Religious institutions and houses of worship would be viewed under the same criteria.”
Rabbi Slome is waiting to hear about the status of her application. Following guidance from Jewish community organizations, she made sure to mention in her application that West End was not just a house of worship.
Congregations like the West End Temple are in a tough spot – they are not sure when they will hear back from the federal government about those disaster assistance grants.
In the meantime they are hoping to put things back together, count up the costs, and hope they can open their doors again soon.