Eitan Katz
Eitan Katz

Rabbi Dovid Greenblatt of the Five Towns-based Davis Memorial Fund and one of the prime moving forces of the Community Assistance Fund that was resuscitated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy wants you to have fun. And he’s serious.

This is no laughing matter–or then again, perhaps it is. Rabbi Greenblatt, in his endless energetic fashion, is throwing a big community-wide party and he wants you to attend. “It’s pretty simple,” he told us the other day. “We’ve managed to come together and unify in the aftermath of the storm. Why can’t we also get together as a unit and celebrate Purim together?”

For him and those involved in the Davis Memorial Fund, they are not just expressing a dream that some wishful scenario magically develop. They are working diligently to make it happen in a big Five Towns and Far Rockaway party this coming Saturday night at 9 p.m. at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, following the reading of the Megillah in your shuls.

Admission is free, though sponsorships are invited. The organizers are hoping that this is going to be the greatest Purim party ever thrown in these parts. The interesting thing is that the catalyst for the event was the misery and struggle that so many experienced–and unfortunately some are still dealing with–in order to get back into their homes that were devastated by the Sandy storm.

It’s a little odd–okay, call it funny–how the misery quotient has this unifying way about itself, while good times and celebrations tend to become sectarian or territorial–maybe even tribal. There is the Far Rockaway tribe, the this part of Lawrence tribe, that part of Lawrence, then the Cedarhurst tribe, Woodmere, Hewlett, and so on down the line. Getting the tribal chiefs together along with all the little Indians is quite a courageous task that perhaps only the vision of Dovid Greenblatt can accomplish.

Greenblatt would not be pleased if this were all about him. In fact it really is not; it is more about how this Memphis native sees things with an unobstructed clarity of vision that has him setting his sights on an objective and then accomplishing it. It is that simple, or actually that complicated.

Some of the shuls in the area have either canceled or rescheduled their usual Purim night festivities so that the community can come together as closely as possible as one. Others, he says, have an annual tradition of having their shul host a party that night and, he says, it was just impossible for them to cancel at this point.

Although there is no fixed cost of admission, the hope is that many in attendance will be inspired by the display to join the Davis Fund in supporting many local families who are in need of economic and other assistance.

If you need or want proof that Dovid Greenblatt was born and raised in Memphis, all you have to do is look at the ad in this and other papers that says that along with the good food and great music there will be a “Knee-Slapping Hilarious Purim Shpiel.” Of course no one born in the last half century describes anything as “knee-slapping” unless they were raised near Graceland, the home of country music, and the Grand Ole Opry (which is in Nashville, a mere 200 miles from Memphis).

The Purim crew behind this show has been working for weeks with some of the top Purim shpiel talent out there to put together one very excellent knee-slapping performance, I am told. The producers do not want to say too much, but they did reveal that one of the skits is a hilarious enactment of a young man on a shidduch date on the night that the hurricane hit this area. That sounds like it has seriously funny potential. This and other things that might have gone wrong over those few nights of stormy weather and electrical failures will be explored from a comical Purimy perspective on Saturday night.

Thinking back to those difficult and harrowing days, nothing seems funny, but that is perhaps the magic of what Purim meant then and what it means today. The organizers say that they expect more than 1,000 people to attend.

Entertainment throughout the evening will be provided by Nochi Krohn and his band as well as Eitan Katz and his group (see Page 30 for more about Eitan). There will be no food served at the event, nor there will there be any Purim-type spirits to imbibe. Rabbi Judah Hulkower, one of the event organizers, says that this is a night of tribute to the community by the very community itself. On the usually sensitive matter of drinking and Purim, Rabbi Hulkower says that there will be very tight security to make sure no alcoholic beverages are brought into the hall.

As to the content of the shpiel that has been described by those who attended rehearsals as not only knee-slapping but also side-splitting, Rabbi Greenblatt said that it would not do justice to how funny the material is by trying to walk through the script in advance. According to Greenblatt, the skits were written and created by Rabbi Shloime Berger of Lawrence. The organizers say that meetings in planning the event have taken way too long, as half the time was spent howling at Shloime’s humor. Berger will begin the evening with a stand-up comic routine just to warm the crowd up for the main event.

The reality is that the work of the Davis Memorial Fund and the Community Assistance Fund is no laughing matter. Since Hurricane Sandy hit our area in late October, the Fund, under Rabbi Greenblatt’s direction, has dispensed over $7 million to those who incurred losses as a result of the storm.

As for the status of those hardest-hit families, which has drifted out of the news of late, Dovid Greenblatt says that there are still families not living in their homes and many are still months away from returning home. He says that upon reflection and after the passage of these few months, he is disappointed by the inconsistency and slowness with which FEMA funds have come through the system to those with the most extreme damage. This, he adds, despite the media talk about $60 billion being allocated by Washington to assist Sandy victims.

He says that the maximum FEMA reimbursement was $30,000 per family, and those hardest hit incurred losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also adds that he was not too impressed by the responsiveness of insurers that seemed more focused on not paying claims or not covering items than providing funds to their clients that experienced the most profound property damage.

So while the get-together Saturday night at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence will be a celebration of Purim, it will also be, in a sense, a celebration of our modern-day survival and our communal response to our neighbors in their most intense time of need.

“There is a lot of diversity in our community,” Dovid Greenblatt says. “But every once in a while events occur that bring people together; the imaginary walls come down and that which separates us disappears. Our response to the ravages of Sandy is one of those instances.” And that’s worth celebrating. v

Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at editor@5tjt.com.

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