Wilma Victims Get Short Shrift


by Rebecca Rosenthal - LUBAVITCH HEADQUARTERS, NY

November 1, 2005

Elderly Jews in south Florida have two strikes against them: Hurricane Wilma wiped out their electrical power, their lifeline to self-sufficiency, and, after Hurricane Katrina and Rita, it seems few tears are left to be shed for the plight of these victims, thousands trapped in their homes, suffering without food, clean water and medical care. A case of compassion fatigue?

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of the Chabad-Lubavitch educational and social services divisions, shudders at the suggestion. “It would be a crime if victims were left to languish because people are tired of the misery. I hope it does not apply here,” he said. “It certainly does not apply to Chabad.”

Chabad centers in southern Florida have indeed been paying attention and taking action. This morning, a plane landed with thousands more kosher self-heating, ready-to-serve meals courtesy of sponsors who responded to the call issued by Merkos vice chairman, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. At the cargo bay, Chabad representatives arrived with borrowed pick up trucks and delivery vans, divvying up the shipment and peeling out of the lot for another day of door-to-door rescue work. This was the third of Chabad’s shipments of La Briute meals, the first of which arrived last Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Several of those meals went to Ben Steinberg of Century Village. When Wilma struck, the octogenarian rationed out leftovers for meals. After days of no electricity, they spoiled. Yesterday a volunteer team headed by Chabad representative Baila Gansburg knocked at Steinberg’s door. “I was praying everyday for someone to come and stop by,” said Steinberg. “I knew if anyone was going to come it would be Chabad.”

Where Hurricane Katrina’s disastrous Superdome evacuation mesmerized the spotlight, no hue and cry has been raised over Hurricane Wilma victims, trapped in their multi-story apartment buildings. “It is not as visually gripping as the images coming out of New Orleans, but there are tens of thousands of elderly people in need of food and supplies who cannot attend to themselves,” said Rabbi Mendy Sharfstein who is coordinating rescue efforts for Chabad-Lubavitch World headquarters.

To their credit, said Gansburg, the Red Cross responded on the scene with relief supplies. Problem is Red Cross sandwiches, baloney and ham and cheese, are not kosher and the majority of Jews in the complexes either keep kosher or eat only kosher-style food.

Five days after Wilma hit, the caretaker of an elderly, blind man in Century Village approached Chabad volunteers. The man she cares for was out of food. No kosher grocery stores were open. She was desperate, and the Red Cross was handing out sandwiches. “She felt his life was in danger, so she got a baloney sandwich and told him it was kosher,” said Gansburg. “He took a bite and knew something wasn’t right. He wouldn’t eat anything more.” Gansburg’s crew handed over several kosher meals and the caretaker sighed audibly with relief. “She was so grateful.”

As Gansburg and her volunteers made their rounds along the Century Village courtyard, they heard a voice coming from an upper floor, screaming “Yidden! Yidden!” The volunteers bounded up the steps to the apartment. A thin wizened man opened the door as they approached. He told Gansburg, “I am ninety-three. My wife is ninety-one. We can’t get out anywhere.” Gansburg smiled, handed over a stack of meals and said. “We came here just for you.”

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