February 22, 2020

Chabad Coordinating Hurricane Relief Efforts for the Bahamas

Chabad of Nassau Rabbi Sholom Bluming

Days before Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas, Rabbi Sholom Bluming of Chabad of Nassau flew to Miami. He did so to help coordinate relief efforts for the Bahamas that he knew would be needed after the Category 5 storm made landfall.

Speaking with the Journal from Miami, Bluming said, “We knew that we’d have to create the relief from Florida because that’s the only place [relief supplies and personnel] would be. It’s about helping all those in Abaco and the other islands that were really, really hurt.”

While Nassau, where Bluming lives, escaped the storm relatively unscathed, the Abaco Islands — home to approximately 70,000 people — were virtually decimated. “Ninety percent of the communities there were leveled and people were left homeless,” Bluming said. 

Working with seven Chabad groups and the official government relief efforts, Bluming has helped mobilize Jews worldwide.

“We have seven locations in South Florida that we are using as drop-off places,” Bluming said. “People are bringing food, clothing, bug repellant, hygiene products and first aid kits, and we have a warehouse consolidating everything.”

The biggest issue, though, Bluming said, is being able to land a plane in Abaco “because all the airports are 4 feet under water. And yesterday the winds were still too strong to even fly in helicopters.” However, by early morning on Sept. 4, Bluming said a plane with medical supplies and doctors had been sent to the area.

“That’s the most important thing right now,” he said. “We have search and rescue teams, medics, EMTs that we need to get there. There’s a tremendous need on the ground right now.” 

Chabad’s goal, Bluming said, is twofold: “To save as many lives as possible but also to bring hope and uplift as many people as we can. They need a sense of hope and belief that they can recover from this.”

Bluming also hoped to personally head to the area as soon as possible “to help people there. That’s the goal. The idea is to be there long term and help people rebuild — not just drop off supplies and leave.” 

Rabbi Sholom Bluming distributes supplies in hurricane-ravaged Freeport. Photo courtesy of Rabbi SholomBluming.

He added that the outpouring of support from around the world has been overwhelming, including from schools in Boston and Toronto, from Sao Paolo, Brazil, and from Chabad rabbis in small and big communities.

“We are called upon to create a better world and to be there for each other in times of need, Jew and non-Jew alike,” Bluming said.  “At this hour, it’s time for Jewish communities around the world to shine that world of kindness and chesed to other people.”

The Journal spoke with Bluming again several days later, when he had finally made it to Freeport in the Bahamas. As of Sept. 10, Bluming said they were about to bring in their fifth container of supplies, including 46,000 meals, 3,900 rolls of toilet paper, 1,740 roll of paper towels, 22,700 bars of soap, 32,400 feminine hygiene products, 14,300 assorted diapers, 5,040 adult diapers, 3,440 toothbrushes, 2,000 tubes of toothpaste, 46,800 bottles of water and, 27,938 granola bars. 

“We’ve created 17 distribution centers,” Bluming said. “The needs [of people] on the island are incredible. Everything has been totally destroyed. There’s no power, no water, but what we are bringing to people is the first line of relief.” 

Beyond the very real, needed material supplies, Bluming also is bringing, as he puts it, “a little bit of encouragement. I stand there hugging people. They need that love, to know that somebody out there cares.”

He added that donations from Jews around the globe also have included books, games and toys. “We gave a doll to a little 7-year-old girl whose home had been destroyed. And she started crying with gratitude because it reminded her of the doll she lost.”

Bluming described overcrowded shelters and people huddling together. “Freeport,” he said, “has had a lot of devastation and a tremendous amount of death. So [it’s good] to be able to bring a little bit of relief. It’s very special when you see the resilience that people here have.”

None of this, he said, would be possible without help from Jews around the world. “From Lithuania to L.A. and Minnesota to Melbourne, Jews are reaching out,” Bluming said. “A synagogue in Pittsburgh collected tents and had them shipped to me to give out. At a preschool in Maryland, the kids wrote cards and had them sent here with words of support and encouragement.

“We are here for the short and long term to help,” he added. “So they can rebuild and have what they need and hopefully lift themselves up.” 

Miles Nadal, founder and executive chairman of Peerage Capital in Toronto who has been instrumental in helping with relief efforts, told the Journal, “In the midst of this terrible tragedy and its devastating toll, we also receive an important reminder of our own humanity and our own frailty. It is a privilege to help those in distress, a blessing to be able to do so.

“Plus, when Rabbi Bluming calls [asking for help for others], I say ‘yes’ before he has even finished his first sentence.” 

To contribute to the relief effort, visit the website.