By Avigayil Kadesh
Though official Israeli offers of help to Hurricane Sandy victims have thus far been politely declined by the states most affected by the October 29 storm, various Israeli non-governmental agencies (NGOs) are working to bring relief to victims and supplies to emergency workers in New York and New Jersey.
Shahar Zahavi, CEO of IsraAID: The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid
, will leave Israel on November 9 with a delegation of about a dozen trained rescue volunteers heading to Far Rockaway and Long Beach in New York’s Long Island, and the devastated Atlantic City-Margate area of the Jersey Shore.
“Their mission is to rehabilitate, rescue, bolster morale and bring physical and communal resources in the most effective, organized and expedient way,” says spokeswoman Tova Hametz. “Shahar ran the show in Haiti [during the 2010 earthquake relief mission] so he knows how to do this.”
Israel Flying Aid and synagogue volunteers in Connecticut preparing
an emergency food convoy. (Photo courtesy of Israel News Agency)
The delegation aims to identify areas of greatest need and allocate resources to vulnerable populations, such as older people and families with young children who are still without electricity or suffered severe damage to their homes.
Young Israelis and Israeli companies are financing this mission, and partner companies in the United States are supplying the crew with food, water, gasoline, sheets, blankets, clothes and storage facilities to distribute to people evacuated from their homes. Hametz said the IsraAID volunteers would also try to organize and coordinate other rescue and relief efforts in the area.
Ra’anana resident Joel Leyden, who volunteered with IsraAID affiliate Israel Flying Aid
in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, says Israelis are well prepared to function in emergencies and disasters.
“Unfortunately, that’s the environment we’ve had to adapt to and what makes us excel in places like Haiti, Japan, Turkey and even New York. The real trick here is not so much being able to provide the lifesaving supplies but actually to create a cultural bridge whereby we are able to open a door for our supplies.”
Passing out bread and fuel
Leyden was on the scene in New York and New Jersey along with other Israel Flying Aid and Israeli Humanitarian Aid-Latet
volunteers. Like him, most of them are Israelis living in or visiting the area.
“We have been responsible for making fuel deliveries to hospitals in New Jersey, and going directly down into the South Shore of Long Island and delivering generators, food and providing other essential equipment and supplies,” he says.
“We’re talking about devastation close to a nuclear bomb having gone off, with hundreds of homes completely leveled and thousands of people without electricity, without food, without water, without shelter.”
On November 7, the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management (NCOEM) in Long Island agreed to provide a police escort to bring in Israel Flying Aid’s delivery of fuel for doctors and nurses at county hospitals, to enable them to get to and from work.
Earlier, Leyden had arranged with Panera Bread, a large franchise, to truck food, breads and pastries from 15 of its eateries to the American Red Cross branch and NCOEM for distribution. And he organized a food convoy from Connecticut to Long Island, bringing food and generators to first responders, police and fire departments and individual homes. As they drove along, they passed out Panera bread and Dunkin’ Donuts to people waiting on long lines at gas stations.
“We were wearing our blue-and-white Israeli hats to make sure they knew this aid was coming from the people of Israel,” he says.
All these efforts have been coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), local police departments, the American Red Cross and Jewish communities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.