While New York and New Jersey Jewish communities have been left stranded and overwhelmed following Hurricane Sandy’s determined path of destruction, their neighbors in Baltimore have not sat idle. Under the leadership of emergency management organizations such as The Chesed Fund, Northern Park Heights CERT (Community Emergency Response Team, a citizen division of Homeland Security,) Hatzalah, Shomrim, and Chaverim, and rabbis, the Baltimore community has galvanized into action to help Jewish communities in The Five Towns, Far Rockaway, Lakewood, Seagate, and others.
Upon learning of the imminent ‘Superstorm,’ Frank Storch, founder of The Chesed Fund and co-founder of NPH CERT, returned from a trip to Israel early in order to set emergency plans in motion. As soon as his plane landed Sunday evening, October 28th, he hit the ground running to purchase supplies for Baltimore residents. He spent the night standing watch over his community. When the storm largely passed over Baltimore on Monday and Tuesday, Storch worked together with Hatzalah, Shomrim and other business leaders to bring relief to communities up north.
In order to persuade stores to sell them tremendous amounts of expensive emergency supplies, Storch called upon the help of Maryland Attorney General, Doug Gansler, who was aware of the previous good works of The Chesed Fund and Hatzalah. Ultimately, they made it happen and equipment was loaded onto a number of huge trucks, rented specifically by Storch and The Chesed Fund to transport the large generators and other emergency paraphernalia into desolate areas.
Hatzalah in Baltimore coordinated with their counterpart in Far Rockaway and under the aegis of Achiezer and Rabbi Boruch B. Bender, they arranged the meet. As the trucks made their way through the pitch dark streets, one driver solemnly noted, “It seems like we’re in Beirut.” They were greeted with hugs and tears of gratitude. By Wednesday night they had managed to distribute 120 large generators, 250 gas cans, 50 sump pumps, 1000 lanterns, 1000’s of batteries, dry ice, and radios. In the end, more than $135, 000 worth of emergency supplies was brought up to New York and sold to residents at the true and fair price. Some paid with checks and IOU’s, as trust triumphed avarice.
Fortunately, as they readied to leave and found themselves with leftover supplies, Yanki Brach of Brach Supermarkets of Lawrence and Queens saved the day – or night, as it were. Offering to bring the supplies to his Lawrence location, he sold the emergency items to customers at cost. This relationship between The Chesed Fund and Brach Supermarkets has continued. On Monday night another truck delivery brought 420 gas cans of assorted sizes, over 50 lanterns, and 10 more generators. By Tuesday afternoon, they were completely sold out. Baltimore’s Chesed Fund will be sending more supplies this week. Storch remarked, “Yanki Brach is a tremendous mentsch who does much for his community in a humble manner. They are lucky to have him.”
As for Brach, he said, "It was as bad as the worst predictions were. Many of us were ready, many were not. The one silver lining in this very dark, great cloud was to see the community coming together, certainly the Jewish community helping each other and helping many others.” Brach has sent out thousands of meals, to kosher families and to The Red Cross and numerous local relief centers set up quickly on an ad hoc basis. Chabad, Young Israel in Woodmere, and other venues have been providing food to those who need.
Under the umbrella of The Chesed Fund, Baltimore continued its outpouring of concern and caring for those suffering in New York and New Jersey. Within a day, a major clothing drive was already in progress and working together with various synagogues, including Suburban Orthodox Torah Chaim, and schools such as Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Day School, and many, many volunteers, Baltimore’s Jewish community has already put together four 16-foot truckloads of clothing, linens, toiletries, etc. This second caravan will be leaving this Tuesday, along with 10 more large generators and hundreds of assorted size gas cans.
Baltimore’s community is proving tireless and relentless in their desire to give to New York and New Jersey communities. On Tuesday a 50 person community crew will be heading up to hard-hit Seagate to do the messy work of cleaning basements, pumping out flood water and whatever else is necessary. They will be bringing their own machinery and equipment to get the job done.
Storch observed, “We have heroes in our midst. Baltimore has endured our share of storms. While we are thankful Sandy did not significantly damage Baltimore; it is absolutely up to us to extend a hand to those who have been victimized by this hurricane. We are only too willing to put our lives on hold to support those caught in this awful turn of events. As long as there is need, we will continue to find effective ways to give of ourselves.”
Currently, The Chesed Fund stands ready with over 100 Baltimore families, ready to host New York/New Jersey families who need a roof over their head for an extended period of time, should it prove necessary. With the weather rapidly becoming colder in the Tri-State area, they just might need to turn to their more temperate mid-Atlantic neighbors for shelter.
In a year filled with stories of despair and disturbance, and in a situation rife with havoc, loss, and misery, this is a glimpse into the world of worthy accomplishment and true kindness. In communities without power, this is a story of the love of fellow Jew creating a path of light.