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How You Can Help Puerto Rico’s Devastated Reform Congregation

How You Can Help Puerto Rico’s Devastated Reform Congregation

Photo of Temple Beth Shalom the brick synagogue in Puerto Rico damaged internally by Hurricane Maria and its floods

Nearly a month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the situation there remains dire, with basic living conditions and communications extremely challenged. The challenges and needs its residents face are many.

Damage to the island

Temple Beth Shalom, the island’s Reform congregation, reports that the situation is critical:

  • For the first time in a very long time, hunger and thirst are serious issues in Puerto Rico. Like so many others on the island, members of the synagogue are in need of a number of items, including food and water. Local efforts are working on meeting these needs, but they are not enough to sustain all those in need.
  • Continuous flooding has resulted in an increased risk of outbreak of waterborne illnesses, including leptospirosis, and diseases spread by mosquitos, including dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.
  • Even a month after the storm, the island’s electric grid is still mostly collapsed.
  • The island’s collapsed infrastructure has seriously impacted its already recession-weakened economy. Most people have not been able to return to work, and many small and mid-sized businesses have been forced to shut their doors indefinitely.

Damage to the synagogue

Although Temple Beth Shalom's sanctuary is intact, its kitchen and religious school sustained flooding damage during and after Hurricane Maria. The synagogues electricity has not been restored, which means the congregation has not yet been able to use the building for services, nor has leadership been able to make a full assessment of the damage (the affected areas are very dark, even in the daytime).

Many of the synagogue's members have been directly affected by this storm, which means that the congregation's primary source of income, membership donations, will be significantly reduced, as well, making it difficult to maintain normal operations throughout the next year or more.

How you can help

Members of Temple Beth Shalom greatly appreciate the hundreds of messages of support they've received following the devastation Hurricane Maria inflicted upon the island. Because so many well-wishers have requested information about the best way to help the community recover, they've launched a fundraiser to help the congregation rebuild.

All funds will go to relief efforts in the local Jewish community and other local recovery efforts. When donating, you may specify in the comment section whether you want the funds to go to a specific recovery effort.

Temple Beth Shalom is running this campaign in an effort to raise enough funds to bring it back to normal operation as soon as possible. Medium- to long-term needs (such as propane stoves, mosquito nets, water filters that can filter out microbiological contaminants [0.01 or 0.02 micron], and solar chargers for electronics) are still desperately needed, not only for members of the congregation but also the community at large.

They also need to obtain and install a gas- or diesel-powered generator for emergencies, but this is only a temporary solution. As a more permanent way to get back on their feet faster after disasters like this, and to reduce their overall operating expenses, congregational leadership hopes to install solar panels to run their facilities year-round.

If you’d rather send goods…

The congregation has also created a registry to purchase specific items they need, which will be distributed amongst the community.

If you wish to send boxes of non-perishable food items, diapers, feminine hygiene products, and other essential items to be distributed to families in need, they can be sent to the congregation's temporary address:

Temple Beth Shalom
PO Box 363752 
San Juan, PR 00936

Unfortunately, mail delivery to the island is still extremely unreliable: Picking up packages at the Post Office can mean waiting for hours in long lines, only to discover that the package is not there at all. Thus, monetary donations are, at this time, the congregation's best option.

However you are able to help, Temple Beth Shalom of Puerto Rico thanks you deeply for your support during this time of immense need. 

Kate (Bigam) Kaput is the social media and community manager for the Union for Reform Judaism, serving as a content manager and editor for ReformJudaism.org. She is a proud alumna of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Eisendrath Legislative Assistant fellowship and also served as the RAC's press secretary. A native Ohioan, Kate grew up at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, OH, and holds a degree in magazine journalism from Kent State University. She lives in Cleveland with her husband, Mike. 

Kate Kaput
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