“Enlightened stewardship is not only a religious and moral imperative; it is a strategy for security and survival.”
—Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Jewish Energy Covenant
On the Friday before Hurricane Sandy hit, Karen Horowitz, Senior Greening Fellow at the Friedberg JCC, moved her computer hard drive from the floor to her desk. She saved the hard drive, but the JCC’s main building in Oceanside, Long Island, was closed for 3 months after the storm. And the early childhood center in Long Beach, flooded with 6 feet of water, has just reopened one year after Sandy.
JCCs, congregations, day schools, and other community organizations rushed to help after Hurricane Sandy and they are still helping. Jewish Greening Fellowship organizations are among them: The Shorefront Y in Brighton Beach has disaster case managers and legal assistance on site. Met Council volunteers are distributing food packages and recovery information, and members of Congregation Beth Elohim are still preparing meals for displaced people.
While the recovery continues, we must also prepare for the future. Climate change is changing the weather. Higher temperatures are loading storms with extra energy and rising seas mean more flooding from storm surges. Heat waves that are occurring every summer in New York are less dramatic, but just as deadly.
What can we do? First, we can take proactive steps to protect the community assets for which we are responsible. For example, the new floor installed in the Friedberg JCC is designed to be lifted up and easily replaced in case of future flooding. JASA Brighton Beach Housing, a residence for low-income seniors, is scanning and digitizing paper records and storing emergency supplies. North Shore Synagogue, which provided emergency shelter after Hurricane Sandy, is creating a disaster fund to pay for extra hours for security and maintenance staff.
Second, we can build relationships that will enable people to work together in any kind of emergency. Sheepshead Bay Road to Recovery Coalition, led by the Kings Bay Y and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, is recruiting local business owners to serve as block captains. The Coalition includes Asian Americans for Equality, the Turkish Cultural Center, and other community organizations, to build strong ties among neighbors.
Third, we can let our political leaders know what we expect from them. New York State’s Community Reconstruction Program has just allocated $25 million dollars to Staten Island. This is a down payment on the $78 million in Sandy Recovery Funds due to arrive from the Federal government. David Sorkin, Executive Director of the JCC of Staten Island, is co-chair of the Staten Island Planning Committee. Members of the JCC Green Committee, led by Senior Fellow JR Rich, are participating in public meetings to make sure that these funds are used wisely. Not just to build seawalls, but also to restore wetlands that provide natural barriers to waves. Not just to reconstruct streets, but also to improve public transportation so that people have a better alternative to driving.
While we must prepare and protect our communities, we can also take proactive steps to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Increasing energy efficiency and using renewable solar energy reduce the amount of heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere. Greening Fellows are leading the way as individuals. Sandy Haft, Senior Fellow at the Rosenthal JCC, has installed a solar energy system on the roof of his home. Eric Schulmiller drives an electric car to work at the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore. And as communities we can do even more. At the Boro Park Y, Director Ellie Kastel, has upgraded to energy-efficient lights throughout the facility. Right now a solar energy system is being installed on the roof of Greenburgh Hebrew Center, led by Greening Fellows Rabbi Barry Kenter and Barney Wolff.
Hurricane Sandy showed us what climate change can do. Our response showed us what we can do. Let’s do it!