Sea Gate Marks Sandy Anniversary

Celebrants dancing at the hachnasas sefer Torah in Sea Gate. (Heshy Rubinstein/Dee Voch)
Celebrants dancing at the hachnasas sefer Torah in Sea Gate. (Heshy Rubinstein/Dee Voch)

Hachnasas Sefer Torah Held

Residents, friends, volunteers, host families and benefactors of the Sea Gate community gathered for a special event Tuesday night to commemorate the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.

The event, called “Shirah Chadashah Al Sfas Hayam” was a means for the Sea Gate community to give thanks to Hashem for all the chassadim He performed for them during the past year; to express gratitude to all of the volunteers and donors that allowed the residents to recover and rebuild; and to celebrate the community’s triumph over waves of destruction. There was also a hachnasas sefer Torah, donated by Mr. Yosef Boruch “Yosh” Wolhendler to Cong. Avodas Yisroel, better known as Rabbi Rubin’s shul, which lost two sifrei Torah, Rachmana litzlan, to the storm.

Lapel pins were distributed to all attendees, with the event logo  and the inscription, “I’m a Sea Gate Sandy Survivor,” or “I Hosted a Sea Gate Sandy Family
and Survived.”

Drawing over a thousand people — including 50 people from Baltimore, who had been among the hundreds of volunteers that community sent to Sea Gate in the aftermath of the storm – “Shirah Chadasha Al Sfas Hayam” was held on the beach behind the home of Sea Gate’s most famous Jewish resident, Mordechai ben David.

“The past year has been mafeila l’orah,” said MBD. “When we experienced the destruction last year, it seemed to be the greatest devastation. But I believed that it was all for the best, and now we see that it was all for the best. Everyone’s house is built more nicely than before, the community is stronger than ever before, and this is the greatest community in the world!

“We owe thanks to Hashem for all the malachim He sent us. That’s what this night is all about.”

Harav Yekusiel Yehudah Meisels, shlita, Rav of Sea Gate.
Harav Yekusiel Yehudah Meisels, shlita, Rav of Sea Gate.

The mechitzah was made up of beautiful flaming torches. The weather was perfect, the setting — looking out over Gravesend Bay, with the lit-up Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background — was beautiful. And it was difficult to think about how, just one year ago, this very locations was the scene of utter destruction.

Mr. Wolhendler, who donated the sefer Torah l’zecher nishmas his father, father-in-law, and brother, aleihem hashalom, opened his remarks by thanking all those who had assisted in Sea Gate’s recovery — from the many volunteers to the those who assisted the recovery financially, “from the biggest donor, to the small girl from Lakewood who touched my heart by sending in an envelope with a $1 donation.”

Wolhendler also pledged $3,600 toward a new sefer Torah, to, iy”H, be written in memory of Mrs. Yuta Zicherman, for next year’s Sandy anniversary.

Young Sandy survivors celebrate a rebuilt community.
Young Sandy survivors celebrate a rebuilt community.

The attendees watched a video detailing the destruction, recovery and rebuilding, and were then treated to live music from MBD and Yossi Green, also a Sea Gate resident. MBD had composed a new song for the occasion, with the words “Kol mah d’avid rachmana l’tav avid,” and Green had composed a new song with the words, “Hodu l’Hashem ki tov; ki l’olam chasdo.”

A hachanasas sefer Torah procession then headed to Rabbi Rubin’s shul, stopping along the way at all the other shuls in Sea Gate.

One of the special lapel pins made for Sea Gate Sandy survivors.
One of the special lapel pins made for Sea Gate Sandy survivors.

The community of 230 frum families is currently almost completely restored to its pre-Sandy condition. Thanks to generous donations from Klal Yisrael, coordinated by Wolhendler’s CYS fund, almost every destroyed basement in Sea Gate has been rebuilt and refurnished at no cost to the homeowner.

Unfortunately, one family that lived on the beach had their home completely torn apart by the hurricane. Today, there is an empty lot where the house once stood, and the family has been unable to return to Sea Gate.

Furthermore, the shul’s damaged basements have not been rebuilt; they are hoping for funding from generous individuals or the government.

Wolhendler said the recovery effort at Sea Gate truly demonstrated what a difference a single selfless individual can make. “Be the one to change the world — you can do it.”

The new sefer Torah in the aron kodesh of Rabbi Rubin’s shul.
The new sefer Torah in the aron kodesh of Rabbi Rubin’s shul.
Some of the volunteers from Baltimore who made the trip once again, this time to share in the joy of a rebuilt community.
Some of the volunteers from Baltimore who made the trip once again, this time to share in the joy of a rebuilt community.