TEANECK, New Jersey – On a suburban block that is practically pitch black, the
windows of one house are illuminated, and the front door swings open and closed
as people come and go.
In Teaneck, a northern New Jersey town home to
more than 12,000 Jews – the majority of whom are observant – residents struggled
to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy almost a week later.
the danger from the storm had passed, the impact had not.
tree limbs and branches littered the streets and some roads were blocked by
entirely uprooted trees or downed live power lines. No traffic lights operated,
and plastic orange cones marked detours throughout the streets – some to avoid
blocked roads and others to alleviate traffic at busy intersections with no
Almost all the gas stations within the town and for miles around
were shut – half without power, the other half had run out of fuel. Those that
somehow remained open had lines of cars at least 50 deep, and dozens of people
waiting on foot to fill up canisters.
Roads leading to highways toward
New York City were backed up for kilometers, as cars with less than three
passengers were being turned away from Manhattan.
Local shopping malls
were packed with people sitting on the floor next to outlets, charging up
cellphones and computers.
For most of the week, the majority of Teaneck
had no power.
After several similar incidents over the past few years,
some residents have invested in generators, and their doors are the ones propped
open to their neighbors – in need of Wi-Fi, laundry, heating up food, charging
phones. or simply a warm room to sit in for a few hours.
Some of the
lucky homeowners sent emails to neighbors inviting them to stop by, while others
distributed fliers in mailboxes, offering a place to use electricity, Internet
or a stove.
A local kosher restaurant, Noah’s Ark, was also without
power, but it opened up its diesel-powered freezer truck for residents to bring
boxes of food so they wouldn’t spoil.
Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, an
Orthodox synagogue with 800 member families, held daily prayer services in the
home of a member who had a generator, and sent an email out to congregants
asking for hosts for Shabbat services.
Another synagogue, Keter Torah,
held some prayers in their parking lot during the week, and canceled
As four days without power turned into five, and some sections of
the area started to light up again, the community began to contemplate how to
arrange a Shabbat in the dark.
Keter Torah scheduled services and
provided food for meals to be held at seven homes around town who either had
power or a generator, before canceling them when power was restored late Friday
The synagogue relocated the meals – for those with power or
without – to the synagogue building.
Friday night prayers at all the
synagogues were scheduled early, so attendees didn’t have to walk home in the
pitch black – without the assistance of street lamps or the glow from
The Beth Abraham synagogue urged all residents to refrain from
walking around at night, to avoid tripping over fallen tree limbs and mangled
sidewalks in the dark.
The Jewish Center of Teaneck said services would
be held as normal, but warned that with the power out, “the Torah reading may be
a little – or a lot – ragged.”
Information was disseminated throughout
the town’s Jewish community as it usually is – via the 12,000-member email
listserv known as TeaneckShuls.
Requests flew back and forth: Anyone
selling a generator? Can someone store food in their fridge for me? I have spare
ice if anyone needs. Who wants a ride to the Upper West Side tomorrow morning?
Does anybody know which gas stations are open? I’m hosting Shabbat services in
my home if anybody is interested. Looking for a third person to be in my carpool
At the generator-blessed house, one woman stopped by to
heat up food for her family for dinner. Another came to do a laundry load of
baby clothes for her granddaughter, and a couple came to charge up their
One man came in to retrieve food he’d left in the fridge, and
another came to log on to the Wi-Fi in order to email a legal brief he’d
completed, and download a recording of a Daf Yomi shiur – the daily Talmud
A neighbor came by to get the phone number of the generator
installation crew, and another woman stopped by to pick up the phone she’d left
to charge earlier that day. Several women coordinated their pre- Shabbat
shopping trips with each other to conserve their dwindling gas
The neighbors made plans, swapped tips on keeping warm, tuned
into the local news and lingered over hot coffee.
By Saturday night,
PSE&G, the local gas and electric utility company, estimated that 40 percent
of Teaneck had been restored to the power grid.
Estimates for the rest
were anywhere from one to five days for the town and the surrounding
As more communal buildings regained their power,
synagogues and community centers sent out emails offering places to charge
phones, watch movies and sit in heated rooms.
New Jersey Gov. Chris
Christie issued a gas rationing plan, assigning certain days to refuel based on
license plate numbers.
As those with power struggled to return to normal,
restocking groceries, checking on relocated polling places and rescheduling
canceled activities, the rest – those still in the dark – sat, waited and prayed
for the moment everything would flicker back to life.