Brooklyn, NY – Located four long blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and even further away from Sheepshead Bay, officials at the Mazel Day School in Brighton Beach weren’t overly concerned about flooding from Hurricane Sandy. But in the devastation that struck shorefront communities all across New York and New Jersey, it wasn’t ocean water that deluged the school and adjacent Shul, it was water from Sheepshead Bay that wreaked havoc on the two buildings located on Brighton 6th Street.
“We had six to six and a half feet of water in the school and another five feet of water in the Shul,” Rabbi Hershel Okonov told VIN News. “We didn’t take the Sefer Torah out of the Shul, because we weren’t expecting any flooding and the Torah is kept in a safe which is elevated off the ground.”
Despite those predictions and the fact that the portion of the safe which housed the Sefer Torah remained higher than the water level in the room, several feet of bay water seeped in through the bottom of the safe and pushed its way up through the Aron Kodesh, wreaking havoc on the Sefer Torah stored inside.
The soaked scroll was unrolled and laid out on benches to dry.
“On some of the panels you can see that the damage is very severe,” said Rabbi Okonov. “Others are in better condition. Repairing the Sefer Torah is a long process and we don’t even know if it can be done, but we are going to take it step by step and then give it to sofrim who are professionals in restoration.”
Rabbi Okonov says he has no idea how much it may cost to repair the Shul’s Sefer Torah but that he would do his best to see that the repairs are performed.
“It hurts that this happened because we could have saved it, but we are far from the ocean and even farther from the bay,” said Rabbi Okonov. “We never dreamed that anything like this could happen here. Even if it costs more to repair this Sefer Torah than to buy a new one we will do our best to restore this scroll because every Sefer Torah deserves to be saved.”
Mazel Day School is a project of Free Russian Jews of Eastern Europe and has an enrollment 145 students in preschool through sixth grade. Community members, parents and teenagers turned out yesterday at the school to help with the cleanup efforts and Rabbi Okonov is looking for a temporary location for the school.
“All of our school supplies, our textbooks, the teachers things, it is all ruined and has to be thrown out,” reported Rabbi Okonov. “The building is starting to smell from mold because everything is so wet and we have no idea what will be with our school.”
Donations can be made to the Hurricane Sandy Restoration Fund at both freeofbrighton.com/donate and mazeldayschool.com/donate.