Tree felled by Sandy kills Jewish teacher, college student


Two young Jews were killed in Brooklyn by a falling tree during superstorm Sandy.

The pair were out walking a dog Monday night in the storm's high winds.

The dead were identified by The New York Observer as Jessie Streich-Kest, 24, who worked as a high school teacher in the city, and Jacob Vogelman, a student at Brooklyn College. The two had been friends since middle school, according to the Observer.

They were discovered dead Monday, crushed by the fallen tree. The dog was taken to an emergency veterinary clinic.

At least 45 people in the United States and 68 outside of the U.S. have been killed in the one-of-a-kind storm, and more than 7 million people in 13 states were without power.

Meanwhile, Jewish institutions on the East Coast began to open up again. The UJA-Federation of New York announced on its website that its offices in Manhattan and Westchester would reopen, though its Long Island office would remain closed.

John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark International Airport in New Jersey were scheduled to reopen at 7 a.m. Wednesday with limited service, though New York's LaGuardia Airport remained closed.

Thousands of Israeli airline passengers and Americans in Israel trying to return home had their flights to the U.S. canceled on Monday and Tuesday. Israelis trying to get home also remained stranded in New York, New Jersey and the D.C. area. In all  more than 14,000 flights reportedly were canceled due to Sandy.

The greater New York area, home to the largest population of Jews in North America, was hit hard as severe winds and flooding toppled trees, knocked out electricity and flooded public transportation systems.

Jewish institutions throughout the eastern U.S. remained closed Tuesday.

Jewish institutions shutting down for massive storm


[UPDATE 5:15 p.m. PDT] Reuters 

Massive storm Sandy made landfall on Monday along the coast of southern New Jersey, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Sandy was located about 5 miles southwest of Atlantic City, N.J., and had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. 

Reporting by Kevin Gray; editing Christopher Wilson


[9:00 a.m. PDT] JTA

Jewish institutions throughout the eastern United States were closing in preparation for the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy.

The hurricane was set to make landfall late Monday, but rain and high winds already have started to batter the East Coast. The storm is expected to cause massive flooding and major power outages.

The UJA-Federation of New York posted a notice on its website that the building would be closed and all meetings and events canceled on Monday, and that information on Tuesday's events would be posted Monday night. The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan also announced that it would be closed Monday and remain so until it is safe to return.

Hurricane Sandy

This NOAA GOES-13 satellite image shows Hurricane Sandy as it is centered off of Maryland and Virginia taken at 6:40 EDT on Oct. 29. The storm is heading in a northwestern direction towards the Delaware and southern New Jersey coast. An estimated 60 million Americans were expected to be affected by rain, wind, snow, or ocean storm surges from the storm. Photo courtesy of NOAA/Reuters

Also in New York, public transportation shut down on Sunday night, and schools and offices in the city were scheduled to be closed on Monday. Areas of Brooklyn and the Rockaways were ordered evacuated. Wall Street also shut down Monday due to the weather.

Parts of Maryland, Delaware and the New Jersey Shore also were ordered evacuated.

In the Washington area, the public transportation system stopped on Monday, and schools, colleges and universities also closed due to expected power outages. Some already have announced that they will remain closed Tuesday and possibly into Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and area day schools also closed Monday, though the JCC of Greater Washington was scheduled to remain open until mid-afternoon Monday. 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia also announced that it would be closed Monday.

Borough Park woman vacationing in Catskills killed in Irene


A Borough Park woman is among the at least 16 killed by Hurricane Irene’s six-state onslaught.

Leah Stern, a Jewish woman reportedly in her 70s, was trapped in the Valkyrian Motel in Fleischmann’s, New York, approximately 140 miles north of New York City, when the motel was uprooted and swept away by torrential water, reported VIN News.

On-lookers could hear Stern’s cries for help until around 3:30 PM, when the cries faded.

Stern was found dead by the fire departments from neighboring Broome County some hours later, reported Yeshiva World.

The motel, including Stern’s husband, had been evacuated earlier in the morning. It was not immediately apparent why she did not leave as well.

Hurricane Irene takes a toll on Jewish community with three deaths, but institutions spared


For some in the Jewish community, Hurricane Irene was a soggy inconvenience.

But for others it became a moment to extend a helping hand—in at least three cases, tragically.

David Reichenberg, a 50-year-old father of four from Spring Valley, N.Y., died while saving a father and his 6-year-old son from a downed power line. He contacted the live wire and was electrocuted.

Reichenberg, an Orthodox Jew, was one of three Jews reportedly killed Sunday in the storm.

Michael Kenwood, 39, also died while attempting to help others.

A volunteer first aid worker from Princeton, N.J., Kenwood was checking a submerged car that rescuers thought was occupied when he became untethered and slipped. Kenwood was swept away by the current and later was pulled unconscious from the waters. He died the same night, reported the Trenton Times. The car was found to be abandoned.

Rozalia Gluck, 82, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was trapped in a Catskills motel that had become unmoored during the storm and floated away. Authorities recovered her body late Sunday. Isaac Abraham, a leader in the Brooklyn Chasidic community, told the New York Daily News that Gluck was a Holocaust survivor originally from Russia.

“She survived Hitler,” Abraham said, “but she couldn’t survive Irene.”

By Tuesday afternoon, 40 deaths in 10 states were attributed to Hurricane Irene, The Associated Press reported.

In the Reichenberg tragedy, he had stopped to help the father and son, who were outside viewing the damage to their home in Rockland County when the boy touched a metal fence electrified by a fallen wire. Reichenberg pulled the two from the fence but could not escape himself, witness Moishe Lichtenstein told the New York Daily News.

“When I got there the victim was on the ground and he was touching the wire, which was in the water,” Lichtenstein said. “When emergency officials got there, they couldn’t touch him. We were standing there for like five or 10 minutes. We were just praying, ‘God help this man.’ “

Reichenberg was pronounced dead at the scene and was buried Sunday night. The injured boy, Reuven Herbst, was reported to be in critical but stable condition as of Monday night. His father, whose name was not released, suffered only minor injuries.

In an interview with JTA, a longtime friend of Reichenberg, Rabbi Avrohom Braun, described him as an “upbeat person with unshakable faith.” Braun is director of admissions and education at Ohr Somayach yeshiva, which Reichenberg attended 25 years ago.

Reichenberg, who ran a sign-making shop, would attend 6 a.m. classes each day before opening his store, Braun said. He also said Reichenberg regularly volunteered to help coordinate Shabbat meals for impoverished families in Rockland County, which has a large population of Orthodox Jews.

As the cleanup effort began late Sunday and the East Coast began to return to some semblance of normality on Monday—in many areas, public transportation was still unavailable—the major denominational synagogue groups were still trying to make contact with constituent congregations in areas without power or telephone lines. They were hindered by staff members unable to get to work due to lack of train service and impassable roads.

Except for power outages and some minor flooding, no shuls reported much damage. Congregations moved Torah scrolls and historical documents to safe buildings at high ground, said Rabbi Elliott Kleinman, chief program director for the Union for Reform Judaism.

Even before the storm struck, the Jewish community attempted to prepare for the worst.

Some New York neighborhoods that are home to large Jewish communities were evacuated by order of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including Brighton Beach and portions of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens.

In Baltimore, the Rosenbloom Jewish Community Center opened its doors to 395 foreign workers, mostly Eastern European college students who had been evacuated from Ocean City, Md., the Baltimore Jewish Times reported. Although the JCC, located in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Md., had been designated an emergency evacuation center three years ago, it was the first time the building had been used for that purpose.

“As a Jewish organization, the JCC has the privilege of stepping up to uphold the Jewish value of ‘hachnasat orchim’—welcoming of guests into one’s homes,” the JCC’s leadership wrote in an e-mail, according to the report.

Before the storm, Jewish officials offered both practical and religious counsel in preparation for the hurricane. The Union for Reform Judaism issued hurricane preparation guides.

The Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias posted halachic guidelines issued years ago by the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and others for what to do on the Sabbath in the event of a hurricane. Among other things, the guidelines specified that one may leave a radio on in a room of the house that is not generally used if there is concern for safety.

“The rabbis are getting a lot of calls today,” Dov Hikind, an Orthodox New York State assemblyman from Brooklyn, told Reuters last Friday.

Lindsay Goldman, the director of UJA-Federation of New York’s J-11 Information Referral Center, reported that UJA-Federation had advised its partner agencies to activate their emergency protocols. As of Monday morning, she said, all agencies had reported that they were open.

The URJ and B’nai B’rith International both opened hurricane relief funds to collect donations for hurricane aid. As of Monday, neither organization could say how much they had collected or had decided exactly how the money would be spent or distributed.

Rhonda Love, the director of B’nai B’rith’s Center for Community Action, said that even though the disaster occurred in the densely Jewish East Coast, aid will remain consistent with past natural disaster relief efforts—based on need, not creed.

“We’ll work where there’s any opportunity to help,” Love said.

The committee that will allocate the URJ funds is reviewing damage reports from congregations but will give according to the needs of “congregations, Jewish communities or larger communities,” Kleinman said. Those decisions will be made in the next week or two, he said; as of Monday there had been no immediate requests for funds.

“Being there right away is great,” Kleinman said. “But sticking with them in the future is just as important.”

Irene downgraded as four million without power


At least four million people are without power and nine dead in the United States in the wake of Hurricane Irene, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

The streets of New York City remained deserted on Sunday, as public transportation remained shut down, and the storm hit with sustained winds of 65 mph, according to the Associated Press.

Thousands of flights in and out of the areas three main airports – JFK and Laguardia in New York, and Liberty in New Jersey – were cancelled, including flights to and from Israel.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Aug. 26 ordered a mandatory evacuation of coastal areas prone to flooding in advance of Hurricane Irene, including some neighborhoods that are home to large Jewish communities.

In a news conference, Bloomberg said that all residents in the evacuation areas must leave by 5 p.m. on Saturday. The areas that the mayor ordered evacuated spanned the city’s five boroughs and include heavily Jewish neighborhoods such as Brighton Beach and portions of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens.

Some 300,000 people live in the evacuation areas, which include all parts of the city that are categorized on the city’s hurricane vulnerability map as Zone A, designating the places at highest risk of flooding from a hurricane’s storm surge. In addition, the mayor’s evacuation order applied to all residents of the Rockaways, irrespective of whether one lives in Zone A.

A Rabbi Meisels who was interviewed by the Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias urged residents of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sea Gate and Coney Island to leave before the Sabbath.

“Since the time for mandatory evacuation will be on Shabbos and we won’t be able to leave then, we are telling people to go before Shabbos,” Meisels told Vos Iz Neias. “We hope that ultimately this will all have been for nothing, but we are recommending that people leave now.

Vos Iz Neias also posted halachic guidelines from the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and others for what to do on the Sabbath in the event of a hurricane. Among other things, the guidelines specify that one may leave a radio on in a room of the house that is not generally used if there is concern for safety.

The evacuation zone also included large parts of coastal Staten Island and Battery Park City in Manhattan, among other areas. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority will suspend bus, train and subway service as of noon on Saturday.

“Some of the rabbis are giving permission to leave the radio on the Sabbath. The rabbis are getting a lot of calls today,” Dov Hikind, an Orthodox New York state assemblyman from Brooklyn, told Reuters.