After a week of destruction from Hurricane Maria the results in Puerto Rico are nothing short of a catastrophe. Most of the island has no electricity, water or fuel besides not having cell phone reception. In more remote areas islanders are literally in danger of thirst and starvation not to mention not having vital medications. Though the federal government sent many shiploads of assistance to help the US territory the assistance doesn’t reach the destination for lack of infrastructure to unload it.
So who jumps into the fray to help? The Jews of Puerto Rico; about 1,500 Jews live on the island, predominantly in San Juan City. Miraculously they all survived the storm without loss to life or limb. Their properties and homes were damaged but that doesn’t stop them from reaching out to help their fellow islanders.
According to Diego Mandelbaum the Jewish Community liaison said in an interview to the JTA, that San Juan City was hit less than other places in Puerto Rico perhaps because house construction is mainly with concrete. The Jewish residents also have the same lack of water, medicine, fuel, electricity and infrastructure as their neighbors but at least their homes were intact and didn’t blow away. Still, like everyone else they need to wait up to 6 hours to buy food at the supermarket.
But the community organized a collection of clothing and food and distributed them in public shelters housing those hit hardest by the hurricane. Mandelbaum explained that at one of the temporary shelters was a mother with twin babies lying on the floor. He bought her a crib and brought it over. “This is all a drop in the sea” says Mandelbaum painfully, “but at least it helped this mother”.
A rescue team from Hatzalah New York including 12 paramedics is traveling around the island doing its best to help. Eli Rowe who is the CEO of Jet 911 a plane ambulance company, was the head of the Hatzalah team for this effort. Rowe said he had to bribe 3 truck drivers to get all his equipment and aid to the city. “We saw total destruction all around us” said Rowe, “homes without roofs, floods in the middle of streets and abandoned stores”. Rowe unloaded his truckloads of assistance at the local Chabad House and started distributing a wide assortment of needs from pita breads to toothbrushes. Rowe was able to organize the assistance due to the generous support of Ralph Nakash, the co-founder of Jordache who lent him a large private plane and flew to Puerto Rico with 2 of his sons to help with the rescue efforts.
Israel also sent a team from the IsraAID to help including 6 rescue workers, psycholgists and wokers who trained locals on how to help. The biggest assistance came from the water filters they brought with them which enable the people to get pure drinking water even from the flooded and polluted gullies without fear of any health hazards. As there is no alternate water supply for many, these filters are literally saving lives.
Since it’s after Yom Kippur, let’s all take a few moments to thank G-d that we have roofs over our heads, running water, food and an infrastructure that enables us to live, thrive and actually prepare to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot.