A team of Israelis and American Jews has teamed up to help rebuild the Union Beach home of a widow, who lost her home to Hurricane Sandy. The woman lived in the house along with her daughter, two grandchildren, and a son with special needs.
Among the volunteers are congregants from the Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, who helped in building preparations, as well as provided meals and other provisions through the duration of the project. Three families who worship at Temple Shaari Emeth hosted volunteers for dinner during the week of volunteer work.
The team is sponsored jointly by Jewish Helping Hands, the Gateway Church of Christ, and Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Amir Shacham is an associate vice president of the Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and was accustomed to receiving outpourings of support for Israel, in the wake of violence or natural disasters, from the New Jersey Jewish community. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the tables were turned, and Israeli Jews were clamoring to express their support for their sister communities in New Jersey.
From this exchange grew the Union Beach rebuilding project, named “Bonim B’yachad: Building Together in Union Beach.” The volunteers were housed at a local hotel, and each day featured daily worship, a full day’s labor, dinner, and Torah study.
About 100 people from the Israeli cities of Ofakim, Kibbutz Erez, and Arad responded to advertisements seeking volunteers for the project.
“We told them this isn’t a free ride,” said Shacham. “They will work hard. It’s not a vacation. And it would cost $750 each.”
In total, 11 Israelis and 12 American Jews worked on the project and lived together during the week of Aug. 11.
The Federation has been working with the community of Union Beach since December, providing physical, emotional, and financial support to the community. Union Beach was one of the shore towns hardest hit in the October 2012 storm.
“This project is a unique concept, especially for Israelis,” said Shacham. “It may be the first time this, a program, based on reciprocity and partnership, is being done. The message it sends to the larger community—in Union Beach, Greater MetroWest, and Israel, is how Israelis and Americans are coming from a Jewish perspective to help the general community.”