Saturday, February 29, 2020

Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan, director of Chabad in Franklin Lakes, heard firsthand from his brother-in-law Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, director of the Chabad of Puerto Rico, about the ferocious winds and horizontal rain they experienced for hours on end last week that caused extensive damage to their brand-new building, which was dedicated just over a year ago.

As yet, the damage from Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 hurricane when it hit Puerto Rico beginning last Wednesday, bringing with it 150 to 175 mph winds, has been traumatic and devastating to many places including Dominica, Haiti and the U.S. Virgin Islands, making it the 10th most intense hurricane on record and the strongest to hit Puerto Rico since 1928. By yesterday, it was reported that 24 lives had been lost on the island as a result of the storm.

Communications and the electrical power grid on the island have been completely wiped out, but Rabbi Kaplan reported that the damage to the Chabad House was “fortunate” in that flooding was measured in inches rather than feet. “The entire main floor of the Chabad House was flooded. The special membrane of the roof was completely ripped off and there was extensive damage to the outside, with a total loss of landscaping and fencing. There was also internal water damage occurring from the fierce horizontal rain over many hours. There was just an inundation of water,” Rabbi Kaplan told The Jewish Link.

Rabbi Zarchi, with his wife, Rebbetzin Rachel Zarchi, as well as their youngest child, were holed up in a second-floor storage facility for the majority of the storm, Rabbi Kaplan added.

With the island now having concluded a full week without power or communications from the island, they have so far only been able to coordinate activities on the ground through satellite phone. Rabbi Kaplan with his wife, Mimi, have been heading relief efforts from Franklin Lakes where they are coordinating donations and the shipping of supplies and assistance to the local Jewish community and the broader community on the island as well.

“They have local volunteers and have also partnered with a local social-services organization on the ground that is active in the underprivileged community year-round to help locals,” Rabbi Kaplan told The Jewish Link.

Rabbi Kaplan also added that the damage to the Chabad was meaningful in a more profound sense, as well as will be the impetus to rebuild, because the Chabad of Puerto Rico had been working for many years to provide a beautiful new building to welcome its many vacationing kosher-keeping travelers, including many from the Teaneck and Englewood communities. Even the dedication of that building was special. “The governor attended. It was a meaningful moment as the economy there has been floundering… The building contributed to the local economy not just with [the construction of] the new building but with the eye to encouraging more Jewish tourism in Puerto Rico, since tourism makes up a significant portion of Puerto Rico’s GDP.”

Rabbi Kaplan asked that everyone who is able to donate or provide assistance to please visit Chabadpr.com/relief, where they are providing relief status updates on a regular basis. “The Nakash family sponsored a relief mission by private jet that flew to Puerto Rico yesterday filled with supplies. It included 5,000 pounds of canned food, water, medical supplies, generators and similar relief items,” said Rabbi Kaplan. On Wednesday, relief supplies consisting of a pallet of water contributed by Bertram Foods and an additional six pallets of matzah, soup, beans and assorted snacks sponsored by the Herzog Family of Kedem/Kayco Foods and coordinated by Jay Buchsbaum was shipped to the island.

“The New Jersey Jewish community is very connected to Puerto Rico. There are thousands of New Jersey families who frequent the island every year and have made use of Chabad’s kosher food service, shul and mikvah. They have also been at the forefront of the hurricane response, contributing generously toward relief efforts,” said Rabbi Kaplan. He asked for the donations to keep coming strong and noted that anyone with additional ways to help can contact him at 201-560-2502, or email [email protected] Again, the website to donate is Chabadpr.com/relief.

By Elizabeth Kratz