When Kohelet Yeshiva in Merion Station, like much of Lower Merion Township, lost power the afternoon of March 2, Executive Director Stuart Gasner learned that electricity wouldn’t be restored until March 6.
So he reached out to the nearby Lower Merion Synagogue (LMS) and the Kaiserman JCC for help — and the affirmative responses from the two organizations was immediate.
More than half a million people lost power, in some cases for days, after the March 2 nor’easter that battered the region. But during those challenging days, synagogues, community centers and schools lent a hand to each other and to the greater community.
“Everyone was really nice to our school, and they were so welcoming,” Gasner said. “It was a really nice community effort to help an organization when things are not at its best, and trying to help us in any way they can to help the organization function. We were so appreciative of their efforts to be incredible neighbors and partners.”
For that March 5 without power, Kohelet Yeshiva moved up a faculty in-service day that had previously been scheduled for the following week. LMS was happy to accomodate and host that faculty in-service day, as well as kindergarten through eighth grade classes on March 6.
The Kohelet Yeshiva High School students were supposed to hold their annual Color War, a tradition the school has for its high schoolers to celebrate the the month of Adar, on March 6. For this, they reached out to the JCC, in neighboring Wynnewood, for its gym space.
Though Kohelet didn’t end up needing it, Perelman Jewish Day School also offered to help.
“Maybe it’s not exactly how we planned it, but [the Color War] turned out amazing, and the kids will definitely remember this Color War experience in a positive way,” Gasner said. “Just being off-site, seeing everyone on their toes, just trying to make everything work. Seeing staff at another facility, just being accommodating and being nice and welcoming and doing whatever it took to make sure we could function as best as we could. It’s a great lesson for our kids to see it first-hand, and it was fun. It was a real savior for us.”
The Kaiserman JCC didn’t just open its doors to Kohelet. CEO Amy Krulik invited anyone in the community looking for a place to come for whatever they needed. She posted on Facebook, including several times on the Lower Merion Community Network, letting people know the JCC had power, and even reached out to a Lower Merion commissioner to make sure that if the township was maintaining a list of places with power that people could go to, the Kaiserman JCC was on that list.
Plenty of people came — Krulik said the staff estimated upward of 100 people a day — to eat a meal, get some work done, take a hot shower or just charge their phones. They even hosted a practice SAT test and stored food for a bridal shower of a community member’s daughter. During that week, the JCC extended its hours so people could take greater advantage of their resources.
“We are trying to help people in any way that is helpful for them,” Krulik said. “Whatever they need, we will try and provide. I wish we had a washer and dryer, because I’m sure we could’ve done many loads of laundry for people.”
People in the community have been talking, Krulik said, about the generosity of their neighbors. Individuals, as well as organizations, opened up their homes and buildings to assist others.
“The Jewish community of the Main Line is a formidable force, but one that really comes out in support of each other,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise me, but it still warms my heart to know that the community is really responding in the way that I would want them to. People’s kindness and generosity — it always exceeds my expectations, and my expectations are pretty high.”
Many who lost power March 2 (a Friday) still lacked it the next morning. This included synagogues that had intended to hold services, such as Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. KI was unable to have its Shabbat service that evening and had to make a decision about what to do for a Bat Mitzvah it was supposed to hold the next morning for Olivia Kramaroff.
KI began considering alternative scenarios for the Bat Mitzvah, including having it without power in a sunny lobby or perhaps hosting the service in the same location as the party, Senior Rabbi Lance J. Sussman said. But Kramaroff insisted that her Bat Mitzvah be held in a synagogue.
So KI Executive Director Brian Rissinger reached out to Robert Friedman, the executive director of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, to ask for help. Adath Jeshurun opened its doors and offered its chapel space upstairs for the Bat Mitzvah, while it held its regular Saturday morning service in an auditorium on the ground floor. This ensured that the sound from the two services wouldn’t interfere with each other, and the Bat Mitzvah could be held in the nicer space.
This new space was smaller than their own sanctuary, Sussman said, and so it created a more intimate environment.
“Because everybody knew that we were flexing, so to speak — not flexing our muscles but flexing our adaptability — there was kind of a relaxed feeling about the whole service,” Sussman said.
Friedman received a text from Beth Sholom Congregation as well about the possibility of having a joint service, which they had done together in the past. The Beth Sholom community joined Adath Jeshurun in its auditorium downstairs for services that Saturday morning and evening. Some members of Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El, which shares a building with KI, joined the services as well.
Friedman also learned that Beth Sholom’s preschool was supposed to have a fundraiser later that day, so he offered up space at Adath Jeshurun for that, too.
Everyone, Friedman said, felt good about being able to help.
“When something bad happens,” Friedman said, “it’s human nature that you tend to want to come together to try to help out your neighbor.”