Students Volunteer for Hurricane Sandy Relief

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rabbi David Ellenson, President, stated, "The havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy has been of catastrophic proportion.  Our hearts and sympathy go out to all who have been adversely affected.   Indeed, we are all surely devastated by the tragic loss of lives, and deeply saddened by the sight of homes and communities destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.  Our history teaches us that there is an ineffable spark to the human spirit that allows us to respond to catastrophe with hope and a belief in the future.  May these sparks of optimism and the good that are taking place even in the face of this horrific disaster light up these difficult days and give us all the strength to move forward as together we rebuild and repair our world. I am grateful to the administration and students of our New York Campus community for their volunteer efforts in the greater New York area on behalf of all those in need." 

HUC-JIR students share their experiences:

Fifth-year rabbinical student Nikki DeBlosi serves as the rabbinic intern at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU. She shares, “The cavernous brick ceiling vaulted over us like the roof of some massive ark, filled to capacity with refugees from a deluge, a storm that raged with winds and with surging waters that would not relent. Not forty days and forty nights, thank G-d, but a storm that devastated the world we had known. This was the Park Slope Armory YMCA just days after Superstorm Sandy.” Read more.

Fifth-year rabbinical student Hannah Goldstein presented a sermon at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York on November 2 on Parashat Vayera. She  begins, “V'ha’elohim nisa et Avraham...God tested Abraham. God called to Abraham, take your son, your favored son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:1,2) Our Torah portion this week speaks of a test, a trial, an arresting disruption. A test that shifts priorities and perspective. We read in our Torah portion this week, about Abraham’s test.” Read more.

Fourth-year rabbinical student Jodie Gordon collected items to donate to the victims of Hurricane Sandy with her pre-confirmation class at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire.  She explains, “On Friday, just hours before Shabbat, Rabbi Deborah Zecher sent out an email to the entire community asking them to donate new socks, flashlights, batteries, and sanitizing wipes for me to bring back to the city with me on Sunday. In just two days, we collected over 300 pairs of socks and approximately 20 shopping bags filled with supplies. On Sunday morning, my students in the pre-confirmation sorted, labeled, and packed these supplies up which we then brought to Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn to be distributed to those in need.”

Second-year Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music cantorial student Lauren Levy volunteered with Occupy Sandy on Coney Island.  She remarks, “When I registered to volunteer, I felt humbled to realize when they asked for special skills that I could play a unique role as a future clergy person.  Though I ended up not directly using any pastoral skills where I was placed, the mere awareness that I had this potential was both humbling and exhilarating.  They sent me to a distribution center on Coney Island - less than 10 miles away from my home in Park Slope.  The damage there was devastating, but the community building was truly uplifting!  Trees were uprooted and sand from the beach was piled up blocks away, but hundreds of volunteers stepped up to sort donations and distribute them to residents in need.  There is unfortunately still a long path ahead, but I have faith that New Yorkers will keep fighting!”

Fifth-year rabbinical student Adam Scheldt shares, “This past Shabbat (and through the weekend), I worked at the Red Hook Initiative—a small community center in the midst of low-income government housing in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to help in whatever way I could.  When I arrived, they needed a good schlep more than they needed pastoral care, so I began to carry boxes of cleaning supplies to another relief center and then headed a team of three other volunteers to deliver battery operated lighting and supplies to residents without electricity or heat. 

“And indeed, I was able to give my pastoral muscles a good workout as we delivered supplies to an elderly survivor of both a heart-attack and a stroke who was caring for her grandchildren, as well as a poor mother of 3 very young children who had neither power nor heat.  Afterward I worked the information/triage desk to coordinate volunteers and information at the Initiative until the center closed for the evening.  I was amazed at the overwhelming number of volunteers who wanted to lend a hand.  So many came to help and to donate that we actually had to begin turning volunteers away--asking them to return through the week. 

"Even though so much was done and accomplished this weekend and through the past week, there is still so very much to do.  Particularly now that much of the subway system has been restored and people who might otherwise volunteer are returning to work; continued effort will be needed in places like Red Hook in the coming weeks.  The work of clean-up for those who have no insurance, the work of feeding those who are hungry, and the work of bringing warmth and light to those in dark places (both literally and metaphorically) is hard work.  But it is good work.  And, I feel deeply blessed that it is work that I could do this past Shabbat.  It was, and is a gift.”

Fifth-year Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music cantorial student Amanda Winter, works at West End Temple in Neponsit, Queens. Following the storm, her congregation held Shabbat services at a nearby church that had less damage than their synagogue. Just about everything inside West End Temple got wet and was ruined, including siddurim, a brand new piano, and newly remodeled bathrooms (that were in the basement and completely flooded to the ceiling). Luckily, all congregants were safe, but many need places to stay. Additionally, the rabbi took all six of the Torahs (including a Holocaust-surviving Torah) to her home in Brooklyn, where they remain safe and dry.

Please donate to the URJ's Disaster Relief Fund today to help with the relief efforts or volunteer in affected areas.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu