Hurricane Sandy and the Reform Movement, One Year Later



A year ago this week, on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall over the Jersey Shore. The stories from those days will not easily be forgotten: coastal communities flooded with record high tides, lower Manhattan in a prolonged blackout, more than $60 billion in damage in an area stretching from Maryland to Massachusetts.

For many of Sandy’s victims, it was months before they could even begin to understand the long-term impact the storm would have on their lives. Today there remain visible scars of the devastation that came: damaged properties slated for demolition, brown lawns indicate where seawater rushed inland, and empty streets are haunted by the ghosts of neighbors who packed up and could not return.

But there is also a heartwarming side of the storm – stories of bravery, selflessness, even heroism. As the skies cleared, staff at the URJ picked up their phones in an effort to connect with either clergy or a board member in each of the 100+ Reform congregations in Sandy’s path. Here are some of our favorite stories that came from across the Reform Movement:

  • One rabbi took to his bike for days following the storm, riding past closed roads and through debris, searching for and supporting congregants who were hardest hit and unable to access support services.
  • Temples opened their social halls, providing a calm and comforting space to those displaced by flood waters, serving hot meals and becoming warming and charging stations, where families could “power down” while recharging cell phones, laptop computers, and other electronics.
  • Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn became a primary collection site, converting their building into a warehouse for donated goods, coordinating placement for thousands of volunteers, and preparing and delivering countless meals to the most vulnerable storm victims.
  • Synagogue youth groups and social action committees spent entire weekends gutting homes, removing debris, and volunteering at shelters with relief groups like NECHAMA.
  • Synagogues sent trailers of donated supplies, donated a Shabbat dinner for storm victims at Temple Sinai in Massapequa, and sent tzedakah from religious school classes to the URJ Disaster Relief Fund.
  • Those who weren’t able to volunteer contributed to the relief effort financially. In total, more than 4,000 donors contributed nearly $850,000 to the URJ’s Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund.

These actions and donations touched countless lives, and added a compassionate element to the business of recovery. Donations through the URJ’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund supported Disaster Response teams, Long Term Recovery Groups, legal assistance programs, and even our own synagogues. Even now, URJ staff and lay leaders continue to partner with our hardest hit congregations to provide critical funds for rebuilding facilities and communities.

In the aftermath of a prolonged nightmare, it was clear that our entire Reform Movement heeds the words of Micah 6:8: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

On behalf of the entire Reform Movement and the hundreds of thousands impacted by Hurricane Sandy, thank you for helping make a difference.

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Isaac Nuell

About Isaac Nuell

Isaac Nuell is the Religious Action Center's Manager of Congregational Social Action and oversees much of our program support, resource development, and strategic partnerships. In this position, he also serves as the URJ's Disaster Relief Coordinator. Isaac joined the RAC staff as a conference planner in 2009, and spent the three years prior working with NFTY, the Reform Movement's youth organization.

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