Jews rise to help victims of Hurricane Charley

new york | Jennifer Ritter says Hurricane Charley felt like a freight train moving through her home.

“You have your adrenaline pumping and fear, and then it is over and you look around you and it is a disaster zone,” said Ritter of Maitland, Fla.

Like thousands of other residents, Ritter, the associate executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, has been living since the Aug. 13 hurricane amid fallen trees, collapsed transformers, exposed electrical cables and smashed houses.

But Jews throughout Florida are pulling together to help those in need.

“Those with power are hosting those that have severe damages to their homes, to help people get through if they don’t have the means to cook food, do laundry or things we take for granted,” Ritter said.

The hurricane, which largely affected central Florida, including the cities of Fort Myers and Orlando, ripped northward through the state with winds gusting up to 140 miles per hour.

Charley, which to date has registered a death toll of 19, was designated a Category 4 hurricane — the second-most destructive type — and was the most harmful hurricane in Florida since Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992.

Karen Coates, the national spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said that 2,424 homes were destroyed, 1,968 homes suffered major damages and are uninhabitable; and 1,260 have minor damages and are inhabitable, regardless of whether the residents choose to remain in them.

Annette Goodman, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties, says the Reform Temple Shalom in Port Charlotte, Fla., was the synagogue most affected by Charley’s wrath.

The temple’s educational wing was ripped off the main structure, but the chapel remains untouched, she said.

As in most of Charlotte County, electricity had not been restored to the temple by midweek.

“We sent a busload of food, towels and toiletries to the community there on Monday,” Goodman said. “There is devastation, but as far as we know the congregation is all right.”

Additionally, the area Jewish Family Service will be providing counseling twice a week at Temple Shalom for at least a month, as will the temple’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Solomon Agin.

Barry Swartz, the vice president of United Jewish Communities consulting, says the UJC is accepting donations for Jews and non-Jews alike at local federations and at the group’s national mailbox.

“We are working closely with Lee and Charlotte Counties and developing approaches to be helpful to those who were victims of the hurricane,” Swartz said. “Communities who have been through this sort of tragedy always reach out to be helpful, and the Jewish Federation of Miami has been great in offering their help.’

Also offering its help is the Chabad of Sarasota, which is currently housing an overnight camp for teenage girls originally held at the Chabad of Fort Myers.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, 60 girls and staff arrived in Sarasota after the Chabad of Fort Myers lost power and water, said Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz at the Chabad of Sarasota. This week members of the community are holding classes in art, magic and pottery for the campers.

In addition, an area chef is offering his services each night to prepare a kosher dinner for the girls, whose kosher food is being kept in the freezers of Sarasota Jewish community members.

Donations can be made to Jewish federations or mailed to UJC Inc., Hurricane Charley Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 20, Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10013.