A Community Without Homes

When Hurricane Sandy arrived, my family, like yours maybe, hunkered down and prayed for the best. We huddled in our basement because we were afraid trees would fall on our house and felt that was the safest place (we were fortunate not to be worried about flooding). When the worst had passed and we were without power, like millions of other people, we did the best we could with candles and flashlights and layers of clothing. After two days we got power back and we started to feel normal again.

I had spent much of the week immediately after the Hurricane when I wasn’t taking care of my family, trying to help my organization communicate as effectively as possible to our constituents about the state of Lower Manhattan.

But on that Friday it became clear my synagogue, Oceanside Jewish Center, had taken a huge hit. Not only was the actual building without power and heat, but so were our Rabbis and our president. In fact, according to some reports we have seen, about 80% of our community had been affected by the storm, many with extensive damage to their homes. We are literally a community without homes.

I’ve heard about this in other places, in other cities, in other countries, but this was right on my doorstep. I recognized many of the places in the photos and videos I saw in the news, places I’ve ridden my bike or taken my kids or walked dozens of times.

The Rabbi and I sent out an email to our members letting them know we were thinking of them and asking if there was anything we can do. The responses were heartbreaking. People had lost their cars, their homes, were living with family/friends or had relocated to other places, were staying in a cold house without power or heat because they had nowhere else to go. It was overwhelming, reading these emails in the warm comfort of my home.

How did we get so lucky?

Finally, the synagogue and our Rabbi got power and we were able to open the building up as a warming center for a few hours every evening for people to get a bite to eat, some coffee, charge up their devices and use our computers.

We sent out an email every day, letting people know we were thinking of them, reminding them of what we were able to offer and asking them to let us know if they needed anything. As things got even colder, people started asking for a place to stay because their home was too cold.

Two nights ago, a family from our synagogue moved in with us. We had never met them before, but knew it was something we needed to do when we found out the two kids were 4-year old boy/girl twins, since we have almost ten-year old boy/girl twins. When they walked into our home on Wednesday, it was clear they had been devastated and I again felt overwhelmed by what they must be experiencing. We helped make the kids feel at home and before long all four of the kids were playing together and laughing. I’m not sure I had ever been prouder of my own children than how they made these strangers feel welcome in their own home.

Can you imagine not having had a warm place to sleep for over a week?

Our main job as parents is to protect our kids, but we can’t protect them from Mother Nature. We spend so much of our lives trying to help our kids succeed in life, to build a career or to become emotionally healthy. We almost never think about where the next meal will come from. We don’t worry about whether they will have a warm place to sleep tonight. These poor kids have lost almost everything; clothes, toys, and maybe, most importantly, a sense of stability. The stress their parents must be feeling, trying to make sure their children have a warm place to sleep, have food to eat, it must be all-consuming, not too mention dealing with the disaster they experienced and trying to figure out how they can move forward. The poor father stayed in their house, without heat or power, afraid that what little possessions they had left would be taken by looters. This is Long Island, folks, not some developing country far, far away.

I know many of you have already donated to an organization like the Red Cross, but if you haven’t and still want to help, would you consider helping my synagogue and, this family specifically, with clothes, toys or money? Please send me an email and we can figure out how you can help.

There are thousands of families still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. Many of these families will never forget what they experienced this past week or so. I just hope they will be able to recover from it.

It’s the Balance of Technology That Matters Most For Our Kids


There is some research now on the effects of technology and social media on our children. I’ve been tweeting about it a bit lately. It worries me because obviously I care about my children’s ability to function well in society, to develop strong interpersonal skills, to be able to entertain themselves without a screen. But I also know if they are not incredibly comfortable with technology, they are going to fall behind and have trouble. Technology will only play a more significant role in all of our lives as we get older.

I enjoy knowing how my friends are doing via Facebook. I post on Twitter and try to keep up because I need to. I have four email accounts I check frequently. Heck, I get text messages every time someone scores in a Phillies or Eagles game. We have four computers, an iPad, two AppleTVs, two Kindles and who knows what else in our house. Our children are going to spend time in front of a screen.

I know I can help them by setting limits for them. I can help them by teaching them about technology and how to use it and the benefits of it. But it has struck me that the trick will be to teach my kids how to balance the influence of technology in their lives, to be able to have control over it than feel controlled by it.

How many adults do you know who can’t have a meeting without looking at their phone? How many adults do you know who can’t have a meal without checking their phone? Or watch a movie and are checking their friends’ Facebook status or email or Twitter or whatever it is?

Back in the day it was much easier to be in the moment, to experience what was happening when it was happening. Now, it is much easier to distract ourselves, but it is also much easier to not be fully present. By splitting our time, maybe we catch the drift of the movie or conversation and we keep up with what our friends or favorite stars or teams are doing, but there is a price, a toll we pay.

We’re missing the experience, the connection of the moment whoever we are with, whatever we are doing.

None of the best moments in my life happened on my Blackberry. My best moments are those times when I’m somewhere with my Okapis (my nickname for my children) and we are so fully in the moment that nothing else in the world matters. The best times are when my wife and I are somewhere together, fully together, and the world only exists for us. None of those moments happened with a Blackberry in my hand, but with it tucked safely into its holster on my hip, forgotten.

That’s what I want them to understand.

I want them to know how to use technology, to be comfortable with it, but to be able to know there are many times when we need to stop and live in the moment as well. I want them to remember what is happening right now is almost always more important than what is happening on some screen.