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November 9, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 9, 2012 PAGE 17A In wake of Hurricane Sandy disaster, Jewish volunteers step up By Chavie Lieber NEW YORK (JTA)--Just before Shelly Fine went to sleep Tuesday night, Nov. 6, he posted his contact information and an appeal seekingvolunteers for the Hurricane Sandy relief effort on a popular Upper West Side biog. When the 63-year-old woke up the next morning, he had 163 responses. Together with other volunteers, Fine is helping to orchestrate a grassroots effort to help out at the city's local shelters. "The response of the Jew- ish community up here has been amazing," Fine told JTA. "Synagogues, organizations and individuals--everyone has been coming out to volunteer. We've been sending people with medical training around to the evacuation sites to make sure everyone is OK, people are show- ing up and handing out cooked food, fresh clothing and games for children." Fine is just one of a number of Jewishvolunteerssteppingup to bring relief to New Yorkers af- fected by Hurricane Sandy. Tens of thousands of residents across the five boroughs still have no heat and electricity after the storm ripped through the city earlier this week, tearing down trees, homes and power lines. Many residents evacuated to local shelters or, stuck inside their homes, were relying on. volunteers to bring them food and supplies. Uri L'Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, hit the streets of New York City Wednesday to hand out food and supplies to those in need. After placingan announcement on "Ivitter and Facebook, some 45 volunteers showed up to distribute candles, batteries, flashlights, water and food. "We brought just about every flashlight we could find, and eventually just stood on street comers and handed out water to anyone who needed," said Uri L'Tzedek's Yael Keller. "A lot of people approached us telling us about elderly people stuck on higher floors who needed company and supplies. We climbed stairs." In Brooklyn, Masbia, a net- work of kosher soup kitchens that usually provides 500 meals a day, has been making more than four times that number since the storm. The organi- zation originally prepared to close its facilities ahead of the storm since many employees live in affected neighborhoods. But Masbia's executive director, Alexander Rapaport, told JTA that after receiving several calls from shelters in need of food, he gathered a team of volunteers and has been working around the clock to provide meals to thousands of people in three public shelters in Brooklyn and Queens. "We've been sending most of our meals to the seniors evacuat- ed to Park Slope Armory, which is part of the government's evacuation plan" Rapaportsaid. "Therewere hundreds of people being bused in, on stretchers and in wheelchairs. We usually aren't equipped to make this much food, but we've had a lot of volunteers. People understand the sense of urgency to help these older people." Rapaport said that Masbia was particularly concerned about the food seniors at shel- ters were eating. Shelters were providing military-grade food rations, he said, describing the offerings as "lasagna meets chu- lent" that were high in sodium. -Rapaport said that Masbia had recently received a large shipment of fresh fish that it would bring to the shelters. "It's low in sodium and much healthier for the older people," he said. Meanwhile, on the Lower East Side students fromYeshiva University went on foot to the area's public housing units,. handing out water, flashlights, batteries, fruit and dried snacks. Volunteers were organized by students, and the supplies came from the. student government's own budget. !'The student response has been great," said Margot Rein- stein, the student council presi- dent at Yeshivas Stem College for Women, as she lugged a case of water bottles down Cherry Street. "We all felt really lucky that the storm didn't affect our families the way it did down here. People with Uri L'Tzedek told us there are some buildings here with seniors on life supportwho are stuck. No heat, no electricity, no way of getting out." Many Jewish organizations set up relief funds online to funnel money to communities impactedby the hurricane.UJA- Federation of NewYorkcollected hundreds of challahs that it planned to distribute Friday in advance of Shabbat.Butterflake, a popular kosher bakery in New Jersey, donated more than 300 challahs to the effort. Occupy Judaism, a group of Jewish supporters of Occupy Wall Street, has been live-blog- ging volunteer opportunities around the city on its Facebook page. Other organizations like Chabad Young Professionals and JCorps, a Jewish social volunteering group, also sent volunteers to hundreds ofapart- mentsin LowerManhattanwith supplies. Nechama, a Jewish disaster- response nonprofit in Minne- sota, arrived in the New York area late Nov. I to help cleanup efforts and utility crews. "We've deployed four staff members with two trailers equippedwithtools foranything we will possibly encounter," said Ross Topol, the group's opera- tions leadership fellow. "We do mucking and gutting of houses, chainsaw work, tree removal, rooftarping, debris removal and damage assessments." The Union for Reform Juda- ism, in addition to setting up its own relief fund, worked on relocating bar and bat mitzvah services from towns that didn't have power to other Reform synagogues that do, and is also providing insurance specialists to help with filing insurance claims. Sandy From page 1A and thick black muck, a lone worker shoveled water and debris from the entryway of Temple Beth-El. Across the street, an elderly rabbi who had taken shelter during the storm with a family member was discussing the cleanup with a contractor. The cost of post:storm reconstruction in the region Will take weeks to assess, but estimates suggest that the" costs for the New York area will be in the tens of billions of dollars. "We still didn't get through to our [insurance] broker," Okonov said. "Our insurance papers are underwater. We have a lot of work ahead of us." The storm known as Sandy took dead aim last Monday at some of the most populous regions of the country, home to tens of millions of people as well as the nation's larg- est Jewish communities. As the floodwaters rose from the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound, dozens of Jewish communities were besieged. With electricity and phone service still spotty in affected areas as the week wore on, it was difficult to fully gauge the storm's impact on local Jewish communities. Calls to Jewish agencies across the North- east only occasionally went through--and even then, more often than not, were answered only by voicemail. Jewish Federations of North America, which later this month is expected to host more than 3,000 people in Baltimore for its annual Gen- eral Assembly, was shuttered, its headquarters in the flood zone in lower Manhattan. The umbrella group's president, Jerry Silverman, was stuck overseas, unable to get a flight back to the New.York area, and early in the week even emails to federation officials were coming back undeliverable. Over in New Jersey, where the worst of the storm's impact was felt, some local federations were silent, too. "We haven't been able to get through to a couple" of local federations, said Steven Woolf, who is helping coordinate the response for the Jewish Federations of NorthAmerica. "Unfortunately, we don't have real accurate reports because of the evacuations and because people have not gone back to do actual surveys of the damage." Last Tuesday, many Jewish organizations began respond- ing in earnest. Several of the largest--including Jewish Federations of NorthAmerica, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Con- servative Judaism and B'nai B'rith Intern'ational--set up funds to help the victims. Oth- ers helped organize volunteers to aid ir the relief effort. But little could be done, at least in the short term, to alleviate the human loss and suffering caused by the storm. "Lots and lots of seniors who didn't evacuate are stuck in the dark, with no refrigeration, no elevators, and no stores open anywhere within walking distance," Lenny Gusel, a Russian Jew- ish activist who had visited Brighton Beach, wrote in an email early last Wednes- day morning. Guselurged his fellow Russian Jews to come help, noting that some elderly residents couldn't easily leave their buildings without elevator service. (On Wednesday evening, Con Edison, the local power company, announced that it had restored power to the Brighton Beach area, though it noted that some buildings may still be without electric- ity due to flooding or storm damage.) At Mazel Academy, Okonov tried to put on a brave face, but the hurt was palpable. He helped start the acad- emy 10 years ago with three students. Today, he has 140, drawn mostly from the ranks of secular Russian Jews that settled in Brighton Beach and surrounding areas. With the school growing rapidly, he had renovated the school's ground floor just last year. Now, everything they had built was ruined. "Everything is brand new," Okonov said, gesturing to- ward the recently laid floors and new furniture, all of it wa- terlogged and beyond repair. "Here we go again." Obama From page 1A it's hundreds of millions dol- lars being spent and it's still the status quo," he said. The advantage, Daroffsaid, is that the sides get back to work, and straight away. "There's not going to be a delay in everyone feeling out their new roles and figuring out what color the rug in the Oval Office should be," he said. Jewish federations and other Jewish social welfare organizations have said their immediate focus will be the 'fiscal cliff"--the effort to head off sequestration, the congressional mandate to slash the budget across the board at the start of 2013. "The fiscal cliff and specifi- cally sequestration is a major concern," Daroff said. "Our concern continues to be that as the nation and our politi- cal leaders continue to assess how to make cuts in spending that those cuts don't fall dis- proportionately on vulnerable populations that rely upon social service agencies that depend on our funding." Cuts of about 8.5 percent would immediately affect the viability of housing for the elderly, according to officials at B'nai B'rith International, which runs a network of homes. Officials at Jewish federations say the cuts also would curb the meals and transportation for the elderly they provide with assistance from federal programs. Obama and Congress would have had to deal with heading off sequestration in any case, but as a president with a veto- wielding mandate of four more years, he has the leverage to head off deep cuts to programs that his top officials have said remain essential, including food assistance to the poor and medical entitlements for the poor and elderly. David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Obama's priorities would be domestic. "While a victory in the second term tends to give you some political capital, capital is still finite," he said, citing George W. Bush's fail- ure in 2005 to reform Social Security, despite his decisive 2004 triumph. "This suggests to me the president will keep his focus on the economy and health care," and not on major initiatives in the Middle East. More broadly, four more years of "Obamacare" mean the health care reforms that Obama and a Democratic Congress passed in 2010 will be more difficult to repeal for future GOP administrations. By 2016, American voters will have habituated to mandates guaranteeing health insur- ance for all, including for pre-existing conditions and coverage of children by their parents until they reach the age of 26. On these issues--entitle- ment programs and federal as- sistance for the poor--Obama and Senate Democrats have the backing of an array of Jewish groups led by the Jew- ish Council for Public Affairs, the community's public policy umbrella. Additionally, Jewish advo- cacy organizations will look to Obama to appoint to the Supreme Court justices likely to uphold the protections fa- vored by much of the Jewish community, including abor- tion rights, women's equal pay guarantees and gay marriage gains in the states. The exception will be the Orthodox groups, whieh gen- erally align with conservative Christians on social issues. The potential for domes- tic tension between some Jewish groups and the new Obama administration--and its Democratic allies who con- tinue to lead the Senate--lies in Democrats' plans to let lapse some of the tax cuts passed by the George W. Bush administration. Senate Democrats in recent years have pressed organized Jewish groups to advocate for raising revenue through tax increases. Some groups have advocated for the increases, but the major social welfare policy umbrella, the Jewish Federations of NorthAmerica, has resisted in part because tax hikes are controversial among a substantial portion of the federations' donor base. Daroff said that Jewish federations would, continue to push for keeping the tax deduction rate for charitable giving at 35 percent and resist Obama administration pro- posals to cut it to 28 percent. "We'see from the response to Hurricane Sandy how vital charities are," he said. "To put stumbling blocks in theway of our ability to raise charitable funds is the absolutely wrong policy." Unlike the looming seques- tration, Obama's most vexing first term foreign policy is- sue-how to deal with Iran-- has gained some breathing room in recent weeks with the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving at an agreement that Iran will not be poised to manufacture a nuclear weapon until the spring at the earliest. Without intimations by Israel that it might strike before then, Obama has a window to see if the tight- i ened international and U.S. sanctions introduced during his administration will goad the Iranians into making their nuclear program more transparent. Iran's govern- ment insists its nuclear program is peaceful but has resisted probative U.N. in-_ spections. Makovsky said he expected a quick return to talks with Iran, which could lead to bold new proposals, setting some of the bbttom lines that have been eagerly sought by Israel. Makovsky said one scenario could be removing some sanc- tions in exchange for keeping Iranian uraBium enrichment at 5 percent, down from the 20 percent level it currently achieves and well below the 93 percent that would make a weapon. Anothei; Iranian give, he said, would be to export the stockpiles of enriched ura- nium already on hand. "I would predict there will be much more of a focus on bottom lines, there will be some sort of an American of_ fer--after consultations with Israel," Makovsky said. Two personnel changes in the coming months in both Israel and the United States wilLhelp shape how the two nations interact. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long-standing relationships with much of the Israeli leadership, has said she is certain to quit, and there is much speculation about her successor. Three names have been touted--Tom Donilon, the national Security adviser; Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations; and U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D- Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Of the three, only Donilon has warm relations with his Israeli interlocutors. Rice has steadfastly defended Israel against formal condemna- tion at the United Nations, but Israeli and pro-Israel of- ficials have been galled by the tough language she has used to describe Israeli settlement expansion. Kerry raised some eyebrows with his sharp language about Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip following the 2009 war with Hamas. And some conservatives questioned his insistent outreach to the Assad regime in Syria prior to the protests that set off the .regime's bloody oppression and the country's resulting civil war. The other personnel change is in Israel and will be closely watched by the Obama administration. Elec- tions there are scheduled fo January, and Netanyahu and his new right-leaning alliance with Avigdor Lieber- man, currently the f6reign minister, may. be facing a serious centrist challenge.