As Hurricane Sandy hits, Katz’s deli kept bagels coming

By Gil Shefler, November 1, 2012
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Darkness descended over the historically Jewish neighbourhood of Lower East Side on Tuesday evening where the power was still out the day after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the north-eastern coast of the US, leaving at least 50 people dead and millions without electricity.

At the Chasam Sopher synagogue, one of the area’s many Jewish institutions, there were no signs of light or life.

Katz’s, the iconic Jewish deli, stayed defiantly open throughout the first day of the storm serving its over-sized pastrami sandwiches and bagels to hungry patrons.

“We don’t know when the electricity will be back,” said the sombre-looking owner of a nearby kiosk, who showed his merchandise to the few passers-by with a flashlight.

Hurricane Sandy, a powerful tropical storm, made landfall on Monday night in central New Jersey, 150km south of New York City. Authorities prepared by evacuating people from low-lying neighbourhoods and shutting down public transportation.

Jewish institutions from Boston in the north to Washington in the south followed suit and announced they would be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

The Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday launched a campaign to raise funds to assist rescue efforts.

Some New Yorkers were luckier than others. The residents of the predominantly Charedi section of Williamsburg in Brooklyn were counting their blessings on Tuesday morning.

Although the streets there were littered with debris — fallen branches and signage, rubbish from overturned bins — they sustained relatively little damage.

“Baruch Hashem, we made it through okay,” said Moshe Klein, a member of the local Charedi community.

“Last night the trees were strongly swaying and the children were frightened, but our electricity didn’t even go out once.”

At the Lula Bean, a cafe in East Williamsburg that stayed open throughout the deluge, Yossi, the Israeli owner, remained cautious even after the storm died down.

“You see that?” he said, pointing to a loose store sign dangling perilously above the street. “That can fall on anyone. It’s still dangerous out there.

“Many basements around here are flooded, the subway tunnels are flooded.

“It will take a long time for the city to get back to normal.”

Yossi’s fears were substantiated several hours later when news broke that a young Jewish couple, Jacob Vogelman and Jessie Streich-Kest, were killed in south Brooklyn when a tree collapsed on them. They were both 23 years old.

Meanwhile, Crown Heights Beth Din in Brooklyn published a set of halachic rules for Jews sitting out the hurricane.

The rules include a special blessing to be said when the wind is strong, as well as a reminder of the obligation to help members of the community as long as your own life is not at risk.

The Beth Din is calling on all members of the congregation to obey the authorities.

It has stressed that if it is dangerous to go out, praying must be done at home and not in the synagogue.

One of the synagogues affected by the storm is the Sharee Zion Synagogue in Brooklyn, which suffered minor damage when a tree fell on an empty house next door.

Last updated: 12:25pm, November 1 2012