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Chairman's Perspective: Sandy Shows Our True Colors

Photograph by
Marshall H Cohen

From time to time I am asked, "Why do we need a Union for Reform Judaism or a Reform Movement? Why not just have each congregation 'go it alone'?" I usually answer these questions by quoting statistics, so when I decided to write this column about Hurricane Sandy, my inclination was to point out that the URJ's Hurricane Relief Fund has collected and is distributing more than $750,000 to aid congregations and members who have been severely impacted by the storm.

But as I thought further, I realized that the reaction of the individual members and institutions to Hurricane Sandy—not statistics—is why it is critical to have a URJ and a Movement in which congregations and Reform Jews are bound together.

For example, within a day after the hurricane struck, I received an email from Dan Silverman, a member of Congregation Gates of Prayer-Sha'arai Tefillah in Metarie, Louisiana. His congregation had suffered enormous damage in Hurricane Katrina and had received substantial support from the URJ and Reform congregations throughout North America. Dan offered to speak with congregational leaders who now faced a similar situation in the Northeast, to give them the benefit of hearing from someone whose congregation had coped with and survived such devastation. I put Dan in touch with Rabbi Daniel Freelander at the URJ, who arranged for Dan to speak with the leaders of West End Temple in Neponsit, New York, whose building and records were completely destroyed by Sandy. Within two days after the storm, Dan and the West End Temple leaders had begun a series of conversations in which Dan told the congregation what he and others had learned from their Katrina experience.

What resonated with me more than anything else was Dan's message to West End Temple: Congregations and a Movement are not about buildings. They are about people and relationships. They are about helping each other. They are about coming together to pray and support each other. Dan's advice was to focus on maintaining congregational relationships—rather than on what was lost.

In large part because of Dan's personal involvement and the URJ's disbursement of more than $50,000 to help the Queens congregation rebuild, members of the West End Temple know that they are not alone; that other members of their Movement are there for them; and that, just as there was a future for Gates of Prayer-Sha'arai Tefillah in Metarie after Katrina, so too will there be a future for the West End Temple after Sandy.

Whether it is Dan's reaching out to West End Temple, or Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, Maryland sending six trucks filled with food and other supplies to the affected areas, or Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington, Illinois distributing food to Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook, New York, or countless other examples too numerous to mention within the space limits of this column, this is why we Reform Jews have a URJ and a Movement.

I am proud to be part of it—and hope you are as well.

Stephen M. Sacks, Chairman
Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees


Union for Reform Judaism.