These have been anything but regular days at Chabad of the Five Towns. The synagogue and community center has become a shelter, providing food and comfort to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Though the Cedarhurst, N.Y., based Chabad-Lubavitch center is always a flurry of activity, with various people heading off to classes and other programs, “now it’s exceptionally busy,” says staff member Miriam Feldheim. “There are lots of people coming in and out to use our facilities.”
Among them is Jack Babani of Seattle, Wash., who came to Cedarhurst before the storm hit to visit his daughter. With her power out and no fresh food in sight, the family now walks 15 minutes to the Chabad House on a daily basis to charge cell phones, use the Internet, eat, share stories and connect with other locals.
“The [unity] here is incredible,” says Babani, whose wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren can be found at varying times of the day volunteering. I’m not sure we’d have been able to maintain our sanity otherwise.”
For Babani, who works online, having the use of the Chabad center’s Wi-Fi connection has been key. He says his thought and good wishes will be everyone there when he returns home.
“We made some friends we would not have been able to make otherwise,” he explains.
Throughout the day Monday, director Rabbi Zalman Wolowik fielded phone calls and dispatched volunteers to pick up food from caterers farther inland.
“We live in a great community,” he says of the outpouring of support for Sandy’s victims. “We’re very lucky.”
All told, thousands of meals a day are being coordinated by the center. It’s also become a staging area for other organizations and a home for the homeless.
“People set up shop here,” says Wolowik.
Meanwhile, the Wolowik family hosted 75 students from the local yeshiva at their house, with students staying on benches in the living room, den and basement. Another 50 kids participated in preschool classes at the Chabad center, and a pediatrician on hand wrote prescriptions for those that needed medications.
“Families’ lives have been disrupted in the most horrible fashion,” states Wolowik. “The goal is to help people get their lives back together.”