By Phyllis J. Lubin
This past Shabbos, we celebrated the coming of Kislev, the month of lights. How fortuitous, since on this special Shabbos we truly were celebrating lights–not the lights of the menorah yet, but rather the return of widespread electricity to our neighborhood. We were some of the lucky ones who had their power restored rather quickly, but we heard the myriad of stories of the less fortunate.
We heard about friends who literally watched their cars float away, while they themselves needed to be rescued from their homes after the horrifying winds knocked down trees that had been standing for decades, along with power, phone, and Internet lines. My eldest daughter’s closest friend rushed with her mom and brother to rescue what they could from the first floor of their home before escaping upstairs.
When the howling winds assailed our home and put the house into darkness, we were prepared with our flashlights and supplies. Every time the lights flickered, Yussie announced, “Power outage!” But often it was a false alarm, and to him a game. Finally, as much as we explained to Yussie that we might lose power, when the lights actually went out he literally wouldn’t move. We shined the lights in front of him to show him how we could still see, and with time he was willing to move around a bit. Sleeping in his own room was not an option for him, and he settled in on a sleeping bag on the floor of Rochel and Lea’s room.
On that first night, initially our landline phone still had a dial tone (while our cell phones were ineffective) and we were able to make contact with my parents and in-laws. A few hours later, the landline went dead as well. We felt isolated; we felt alone. Whenever I had thought about the lights going out, I was sure that we would still have cell service, along with my relatively newly acquired data plan to connect to the Internet so we wouldn’t be so alone. Well, we found out immediately that the cell service was pretty much down as well, with it working only occasionally to receive or send a text.
How powerless we all felt with no lights, no means of communication, and, eventually, a lack of gasoline for our cars. I remember the widespread power outage we experienced a number of years ago, and I recall that the car was our refuge, a place where we could hear the radio and enjoy some air conditioning (that was during the summer, when we were experiencing extreme heat). Now we had to limit our gas consumption and could no longer rely on the mode of transportation to which we were so accustomed.
Meanwhile, at least I could eyeball my children who were home, and with the sporadic help of the texting service of my cell phone I was able to be reassured that my son and daughter-in-law in Flatbush had not lost power. Rivka, at Stern College, was another story. Somehow with Rivka living in a high-rise dorm building in New York City I thought she was in a safer place than we were, living on the Island. Classes on that Monday were canceled as a precaution, and the students were put on “lockdown.” But they had electricity, heat, and Internet, and activities like karaoke planned to keep the girls entertained as the winds howled outside.
In fact she was having fun–until she wasn’t. Eventually they lost their electricity that night and then their water the next morning. She had no cell service, and I couldn’t reach her at all for at least 24 hours–that was incredibly frightening. Finally she and two of her roommates caught a cab to escape to her roommate’s brother in Washington Heights. I finally heard from her by phone while she was traveling in the cab. By Wednesday, my son and daughter-in-law drove in to the city and were able to connect with her and take her back to their home in Brooklyn (the dorm had closed its doors to the students at that point).
Back on the home front, with no Internet or television, we had to resort to other means of entertainment–gin rummy, rummikub, and Bananagrams were all on hand. After our electricity returned, we were joined by my in-laws from Far Rockaway (who were without power). We had an opportunity for extended bonding time. As we cooked some of the meats that were already defrosting from their basement freezer, we were able to exchange recipes. With a few others who had no viable place to eat their Friday-night meal, we were able to share our home and our hearts during this trying time.
The following week, a Nor’easter was predicted for Wednesday, and after picking up Yussie at South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre, I realized that I needed to refuel at least one of the cars so that my husband could get back to work (we were hovering at a bit below a quarter of a tank in that car).
After dropping off Yussie and Rochel (who fortunately ended school early), I began my visit to the gas line at 3 o’clock. As the wind howled and the rain/snow pounded on the car–and with my cell phone barely charged (of course my car phone charger was not working)–I decided to brave the storm for the sake of the gas. With my smidgen of cell-phone power remaining, I texted my eldest daughter to remain with Lea at school until my arrival.
Silly me. I thought I would make it there by 4, but I guess with the combination of the bad weather and gas shortage, I didn’t make it out of the gas station until about 5:40. I know others had waiting times upward of three hours, so I really couldn’t complain, and I felt reassured that one of our cars was full!
Throughout this entire ordeal we have all witnessed the great amount of community unity and strength, especially at the Chabad of the Five Towns. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Wolowik, along with Rabbi and Rebbetzin Geisinsky (who didn’t get their power back until this past motzaei Shabbos) worked tirelessly with many volunteers to keep our power-lacking community members warm, fed, and comforted. Daily the shul was transformed into a place where hot meals were served and supplies (blankets, non-perishable food items, clothes, etc.) were distributed to those in need.
Some families opted for gas-powered generators to heat and light up their homes, while others bundled up and “weathered the storm.” As I write this column, on November 11, the power in my in-laws’ home has been restored, as it has been for many of those in our community. Some survived Sandy and the Nor’easter a week later relatively unscathed, while others will be recovering from this nightmare for some time to come. May we all have the “power” and strength to be there for our less fortunate neighbors and friends as we rebuild our community. v
Phyllis Joy Lubin is an attorney with Maidenbaum & Sternberg, LLP, who resides in Cedarhurst with her husband, Leonard. They have six children: Naftali, Shoshana, Rivka, Rochel, Yosef, and Lea, and a daughter-in-law, Nina. The author welcomes your questions and comments at MothersMusings@gmail.com.