Storm-damaged Houses of Worship Struggle to Rebuild

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The rabbis and ministers of many synagogues and churches in Coney Island and Brighton Beach have said they desperately need the help of the government to rebuild because the donations they receive are not sufficient enough to cover the cost of the damage.

resized130208 Churches in Coney Island after Sandy017The rabbis and ministers of many synagogues and churches in Coney Island and Brighton Beach have said they desperately need the help of the government to rebuild because the donations they receive are not sufficient enough to cover the cost of the damage.

“We need help from the government,” Rabbi Dovid Okonov from the Brighton Beach Synagogue said. “Or I don’t know how we are going to get through this.”

The synagogue has already spent $60,000 to make sure the walls were not infested with mold. The 9,000-square-foot facility includes a synagogue and a school for 150 children that have been displaced.

The temple’s furniture and the six Torah scrolls were completely damaged by the floodwaters caused by the storm. The cost to repair them could reach $35,000, said the rabbi.

More than 19 synagogues in Brooklyn have been damaged in various degrees by the hurricane, according to the United Jewish Federation of New York. The federation said it already allocated one million dollars to the 79 facilities throughout the city.

But it isn’t enough.  Rabbi Okonov said he has also witnessed a decrease in donations, though he cannot quantify by how much. But he says he understands. “Many have damage of their own,” he said.

At the Guardian Angel Church on Coney Island, the water flooded the church’s basement and climbed 3 or 4 feet up to the first floor. Desks, copy machine, computers, documents, all the furniture in the rectory had to be thrown away.

The problem, said the church’s secretary, is that most of the people who come to church regularly don’t give as much in collections as they used to, and the house of worship as a result is struggling to rebuild.

The Guardian Angel Church used to collect $6,000 per week during the masses, which where regularly attended by more than 400. Most of the money was used to pay the utility bills and the salaries of the two priests and the two employees who work at the rectory. Since the hurricane hit the shores of Coney Island, however, collections average around $2,700 per week, a 55 percent drop.

“A bill from Con Edison is worth that amount,” said Fior Torres, the secretary at the rectory, who doubts that the church can operate normally with so few collections.

Like Torres, Shiju Chittattukara, a priest at Our Lady of Solace on Mermaid Avenue, which was flooded by Sandy, said he also noticed that the collections went down.

“It is understandable,” he said. “We are all in the same boat. A lot of people have been misplaced and a lot of people have lost their homes.”

The eight heavily damaged churches in Brooklyn have had some help from the Diocese of Brooklyn. The Guardian Angel Church, for example, has already received a check of $75,000 to cover the costs of repairs.

Meanwhile, the House of Representative passed a regulation on February 8 to allow houses of worship damaged by Sandy to apply for federal aid. Up until then, churches and synagogues were not eligible. If the bill passes, the religious institutions would join other non-profit organizations eligible for disaster relief such as museums, zoos, performing-art centers, libraries and homeless shelters.

 

The bill, however, still needs to be approved by the Senate.

 

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