Giving and receiving. Helping and being helped. Noise and silence. Dark and light. The contrasts of the past two weeks have and continue to be stark and compelling. For nine days, our house was a small island of light and heat, because of our generator, installed the week before Hurricane Sandy hit. I was happy to be a bed and breakfast, charging station, soup kitchen, and warming center.
When the lights went back on last Thursday night in my part of South Orange, I walked outside with our dog. It made me feel so good to see all of the lights surrounding me. My neighbors and friends would be able to come home. Homeowner's insurance will take care of the damage from trees. The cable, internet, and phone service will return, eventually. My little part of the world is going to be okay.
That's how we operate, first you make sure you and your family are safe. Then you make sure your neighbors and friends are safe. Then you look around and see what needs to be done next.
That's how I found myself at the independent living unit of Lester Senior Housing in Whippany, part of the network of senior housing provided by the Jewish Community Housing Corporation, serving a hot lunch to 50 senior adults with the SocialA Committee of my synagogue, Oheb Shalom Congregation.
How did my congregation find about the need at Lester Senior Housing? Because our social action co-chair, Amy Sadeghi, is also a Women's Philanthropy volunteer. She called Federation, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, to see what was needed. And then Stacey Brown, the Federation staff person Amy spoke with, asked if our congregation needed anything. And, in fact, we did. Oheb Shalom operates the Bobrow Family Kosher Food Pantry and we were already running low on much needed food. So Stacey got the word out on Facebook and donations have started to come in.
This is one small story of giving and receiving, helping and being helped. In the last week, I have heard story after story about how our Federation, partner agencies, and synagogues acted immediately to meet the needs of our community.
Both JCCs and the Green Lane Y opened their doors (actually, the Y never closed!) to the community for adult and kids' programming, places to charge up and connect our devices — and ourselves!
Our two Jewish Family Services were our first responders, working through emergency phone lines provided by Federation's IT department when regular lines went down. Our day schools served additional meals to those without power. Our synagogues opened their doors to other congregations without power, to the community to come in, emblematic of the Jewish value of hospitality to strangers.
All of these institutions will be needed in the days and months and even, I'm afraid to say, years ahead, as we assess how to strengthen our safety net, meet the needs of those who lost homes and businesses, and rebuild for the future. Here's where there is more giving and receiving, needing help and giving help. Jewish Federations of North America — 155 federations across the United States and Canada — have raised $1 million for Hurricane Sandy relief, some of which has already come to Greater MetroWest. And when the power is fully back, and the needs are assessed, we will need to help ourselves as well.
As I stood in my backyard last Thursday night, I was grateful for the light brought to my neighborhood through restored power lines. And I was even more grateful for the light I knew was being brought to our community by the gemilut chasidim (acts of loving-kindness), from one person to another that is eternally the source of light in this world.