It was a Shabbat for Congregation Kneseth Israel (the White Shul) to express gratitude to God, commemorating the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy by thanking the individuals and organizations which helped the synagogue and the community in the days, weeks, and months after the storm.
Led by Rabbi Eytan Feiner, the Orthodox Union member synagogue also invited OU Executive Vice President, Emeritus Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb to serve as Scholar-in-Residence for the momentous Shabbat.
“We are extremely grateful for the tremendous financial assistance, genuine care and concern, and constant emotional support provided to us and the community by the OU in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” stated Rabbi Feiner. “Our gratitude continued to grow, as just this past Shabbat, we were privileged to benefit from the enlightening and enjoyable lectures by Rabbi Dr. Weinreb. The Scholar-In-Residence Shabbat proved to be a most meaningful and memorable one, and indeed, we owe a huge thank you to this truly special organization.”
As both a distinguished clinical psychologist and eminent rabbi, Rabbi Dr. Weinreb reflected his double training to offer unique and important practical insights, amazing and overwhelming those in his audiences. “I definitely spoke more from the perspective as a rabbi, but touched on psychological processes in all of my talks using rabbinic sources and rabbinic language,” Rabbi Weinreb shared. “The psychological process included trauma, gratitude, faith and hope, and what makes a good marriage.”
Shabbat morning, Rabbi Weinreb addressed the concept of gratitude. “Having gratitude means that you couldn’t do it by yourself; you have to admit that you were vulnerable,” Rabbi Weinreb taught. “The concept of the American dream, that if you want it, it’s yours, simply isn’t true. There is a need for the other, and the ability to be able to say ‘I can’t do it myself, but I need someone else’ represents gratitude. That’s why we are Jews—Yehuda—from the root hodaah, to give thanks.”
“Rabbi Weinreb discussed the importance of the need and ability to say thank you, and people were moved,” noted Chaim Leibtag, president of the White Shul. “He really emphasized that we have to take to heart the lesson that we shouldn’t live together only during crisis, but all the time, and the message came across very strong. It’s a message that I think is often missed and its resonance was palpable.”
Communal organizations acknowledged this Shabbat for responding to specific needs in the Five Towns of Long Island area included: the Orthodox Union; Achiezer Community Resource Center; Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty; Hatzalah of the Rockaways and Nassau County; Sh’or Yoshuv Institute; Rockaway Citizens Safety Patrol; Young Israel of Wavecrest and Bayswater; Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula; Chabad of the Five Towns; Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services; Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush (COJO); Project NIVNEH; the American Red Cross; and UJA-Federation of New York.
“Because our synagogue is stationed on higher ground, the water didn’t reach us the way it impacted other synagogues locally; yet our shul sees itself as a synagogue for the community,” Mr. Leibtag explained. “The rabbi who led us for so many years, Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz, taught us the importance of community. And this is something Rabbi Feiner generates within the shul. It’s very hard to describe how much people did in the hours, days, weeks, months following Sandy. The reaching out and helping people was marvelous and permeated the whole experience. It was never a discussion of ‘what to do or not do,’ we would just do as much as we could because that’s simply how we see ourselves as a synagogue.”
For what was an entirely new OU approach to fundraising following Hurricane Sandy, contributions to the Orthodox Union’s Hurricane Relief Fund were channeled directly to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund in stricken areas that needed assistance. “The OU provided financial assistance to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, at which the rav’s discretion was distributed to members of the congregation impacted by Sandy,” explained Yehuda Friedman, associate director of the OU Karasick Department of Synagogue Services who coordinated the commemorative Shabbat with the synagogue.
“This was a very important Shabbat for the shul to recognize how far they have come since the community was hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy,” Rabbi Weinreb reflected. “While some homes in the community are still left with damage, and some people still waiting to resettle in their homes, there was an overall relief that no one seriously hurt. That is something to be tremendously thankful for.”