My Dear Friends,
As we prepare to chant the solemn tune of the Kol Nidrei prayer for the nineteenth year since first arriving on the shores of Puerto Rico, I know that this Yom Kippur – in the shadow of the utter destruction inflicted on us by Hurricane Maria – will be unlike any other we have experienced yet. In these final hours before we will stand in front of the Al-mighty asking for his compassion and understanding, I implore you to hear our pain and demonstrate the very same compassion and understanding toward the humanitarian crisis we are facing in Puerto Rico and offer your support at this time. If you have already contributed, thank you!
Every day we are confronted by extraordinary challenges, unfathomable just one week ago. Six-hour lines for rationed fuel; dire shortages of drinking water, food and essential living needs; thousands held hostage in the sweltering heat on upper floors of apartment buildings and homes without elevators or generators; no communication; no transportation; and numerous other insurmountable challenges. We have been inundated with frantic emails and calls from people anxious for information about their elderly and infirm relatives. There are NO emergency services available! 911 advises callers to “please be patient and wait until communication is restored!” They simply do not have the human resources and funds to help and those who cannot fend for themselves have been all but left alone.
Here is a sample of one of the dozens of communications we received today, this one from a Jewish resident of Florida:
“My sister and her husband are trapped in their 5th-floor apartment in San Juan. She is unable to use the stairs and obviously can’t use the elevator (without power). She has huge medical issues, wheelchair and more and needs to leave PR to FL. Any ideas how to get her out and onto boat to FL? They live at……….Any suggestions would be appreciated greatly”.
We will do all we can to get them out.
Along with this, we are experiencing an unprecedented exodus of tens of thousands of people desperate to be relieved of the unbearable conditions. Today alone, Royal Caribbean evacuated 3,800 residents on one cruise ship and two privately chartered planes sold out within an hour at $1,250 with thousands more on standby lists desperate to get out.
Today, thanks to the generosity of one grateful Chabad friend who found shelter and food at Chabad during the past week of paralysis, we were left with a car filled with gas and our volunteers were able to make their first excursion to the eastern side of the island on a search and rescue mission in response to desperate calls we had received. At one home they found an elderly gentleman sitting outside in a chair. When asked if he had water, he calmly responded no. When asked whether he had food the same response was forthcoming. He gratefully accepted water and food staples from us to supply him through the week.
The destruction, utter poverty and squalor we were exposed to on a recent relief mission in partnership with PR4PR – a local social-services organization working in inner-city communities – was astounding. These destitute people are filled with faith in G-d and appreciation to the Jewish people and Israel. The little they own – the shacks which they spent a lifetime building – have been utterly destroyed by the hurricane, leaving the poor suffering inhabitants, exposed and vulnerable to the elements.
The response to this overwhelming tragedy demands a national initiative. We are a nation built on compassion and kindness, and we must demand that Puerto Rico – especially those most vulnerable and impoverished – be treated with those very attributes. America! Heed the call of the Torah and ‘do not stand not idly by the blood of your brother.’ Let’s do the right thing as a nation and live up to the value of ‘equality for all.’ With your help, Chabad Maria Relief has been doing the utmost possible to alleviate the terrible plight of those in need in our community, and will continue devoting the fullest measure of our efforts in that direction.
Personally, this has been very difficult for us. As friends of Chabad of Puerto Rico, you are no doubt aware that our family has devoted our lives to serving the Jewish population and visitors of the Island. Over the last ten days, we have seen much of our hard work compromised for the indefinite future. Yet, even as our personal living quarters have been constrained to a 12’ x 12’ room with air mattresses at Chabad, we are hopeful for the future and consider ourselves privileged and fortunate to be in a position to help others and lead by example. We look forward to the day when we can welcome you back to our beautiful and restored Island.
אבינו מלכנו פתח שערי שמים לתפילתנו – Our Father, our King, open the gates of Heaven to our prayer!
Wishing you a Gmar Chatima Tova and an easy fast.
Rabbi Mendel and Rachel Zarchi
Chabad of Puerto Rico – Serving the Caribbean