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Jewish Community Mobilizing Aid in Wake of Hurricane in Florida

The 700,000 Jewish residents of South Florida are mobilizing to pick up the pieces left in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, which passed through the area Monday morning.

Among the worst damage suffered by the Jewish communities of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties was the destruction of the Jewish old-age home in the southern Dade community of Homestead, according to Bertram Korn, executive editor of the Jewish Media Group, which publishes three area Jewish newspapers.

Though it is believed that residents of the retirement home were evacuated before the storm, information about possible casualties could not yet be confirmed.

Korn said it was only as of Tuesday afternoon that information was becoming available from the areas most heavily hit. Virtually all telephone communication has been cut.

Other Jewish institutions reporting damage included the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, whose annex building was hit by a felled television tower; the South Dade Jewish Community Center, where trailers used as classrooms were demolished; and the home office of the Jewish Media Group and the Miami Jewish Tribune.

David Abramowitz, publisher of the Jewish Media Group, said he had unconfirmed reports of damage to Miami-area Jewish day schools, which had been scheduled to begin their fall terms later this week and may now have to open late.

Counted among the thousands of private homes wrecked by the hurricane is that of the Miami federation’s executive director, Jacob Solomon, according to Dr. Stanley Spatz, president of the Jewish Federation of South Broward.

Spatz and others were at the South Broward Federation office much of the day on Tuesday orchestrating relief efforts in their own county and in neighboring Dade.

“We’ve been checking within our own community by phone to get in touch with residents who might be isolated or know someone who is,” Spatz said in a telephone interview. “Most people seem to be OK.

“Second, we’re trying to take care of the needs of Dade County,” he added. In touch with the Red Cross and United Way, Spatz and his team are focusing on pyramid telephone calling to try to get supplies, including food, mattresses, toiletries and batteries from area residents.

“We’re already getting a lot of cooperation,” Spatz said. “People rise to the occasion.”

CONGREGATIONS PITCHING IN

Congregations from Broward and Palm Beach counties, which consider themselves lucky to have been spared the worst of Andrew’s wrath, are working together to deliver assistance to the South Miami area.

“Right now, we’re trying to figure out how to reach them,” said Elizabeth Krispin of Temple B’nai Torah in Boca Raton.

She and members of other local synagogues attended an emergency meeting Tuesday in Sunrise to organize efforts to gather food, bottled water and other supplies, as well as to drive to the South Miami area in search of people in need.

Krispin said that Jews in Broward and Palm Beach counties are offering shelter to some of the 50,000 people who were left homeless in the aftermath of the hurricane.

B’nai B’rith is organizing additional relief efforts, coordinated by Eric Smitt of Indialantic, a member of the group’s Community Volunteer Services Commissioner.

They are preparing to drive supplies of bottled water, canned goods and blankets down the Florida coast to the stricken areas. With phone lines down, Smitt is in radio contact with B’nai B’rith leaders in the Miami area.

Dr. Warren Gray, chairman of the commission, is directing international fund-raising efforts to support the relief work.

State officials have put the hurricane death toll at 14 people, but the number is certain to rise as the debris is cleared away. Damage is estimated at $15 billion to $20 billion.

The worst hurricane to strike Florida in more than half a century was relatively kind to the coastal areas of South Florida, which were not as heavily hit as was expected.

This, however, was not surprising to Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, leader of the worldwide movement of Lubavitcher Hasidim, who assured his followers the day before the hurricane that there was no reason to evacuate the coastal areas.

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