You probably know that the Jewish Federations of North America are uniquely poised to respond to domestic disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, and terrorist attacks. But did you know that the infrastructure for this rapid response was developed in Atlanta?
Barry Swartz and his family arrived in Atlanta in July 1989. Now, Barry is the Vice President of Conexx, the America-Israel Commercial Alliance, but at the time he worked for the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). In September, just before the High Holidays, Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina. Hugo affected approximately 2 million people in and around Charleston; 67 people lost their lives, and the storm inflicted $11 billion in damage.
The continental Jewish Federation system quickly discovered they had no plan to respond to domestic emergencies. Lois Frank, a senior volunteer leader at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, traveled with Barry to Savannah, where they connected with a small group of national Federation leaders. The group then drove to Charleston to meet with community leaders and view the devastation first-hand.
Barry worked with Marilyn Shubin and David Sarnat from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta to coordinate the delivery of needed supplies. Thanks to Barry’s national Federation ties, Atlanta became the Jewish epicenter for providing material aid to the region. Power tools, industrial generators, kosher food, and challah for Rosh Hashanah were all transported to the disaster zone. The Charleston Jewish Community Center became the American Red Cross distribution hub for the entire area for food, water, diapers, and other necessities. The idea of using Jewish facilities as a hub for the community as a whole would be modeled in many other emergencies over the next thirty years, including Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.
The national Jewish community raised millions of dollars for the general relief effort and to repair Jewish institutions. The area was rebuilt thanks to the generosity of Jews throughout the country. And crucially, Jewish Federations developed a method for responding to domestic disasters that is still used today.
We are thankful for the work of these leaders so many years ago as our friends and family in Florida recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. While the storm has passed, the cleanup efforts will be ongoing for months. You can donate to the national Federation recovery effort and be part of getting Jewish Florida back on its feet.