Ripped Apart and Sewn Together

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CAAAV Director Helena Wong leads a group of volunteers

Ripped Apart and Sewn Together

This week saw New York City ripped apart. Electricity outages, flooded streets, and halted public transportation made us unable to reach each other. It took hours and in cases days to hear if everyone we loved was alright. Some of us posted our safe status to Facebook and waited for others' to come in. Some of us couldn't spare the minutes on our phones to call anyone that wasn't in as much of an emergency as we were. Some of us felt relief immediately following the storm. Some of us have yet to feel that the storm is over.

Some of us this week felt a kind of "survivor's guilt," and threw ourselves into volunteering and donating to people who were hard hit. Some of us watched the water rise in our basements, our ground floors, and on our streets, and prayed for our safety and our ability to find dry ground. Some of us couldn't tear ourselves away from the news. Some of us couldn't bear to read it.

Some of us went numb. We couldn't find ourselves without our daily work and schedules and patterns, and the lack of structure made us unable to connect to ourselves or others. For some of us, our need and the needs of our families were too overwhelming to fully let in. Some of us resorted to the coping mechanisms we use in times of trial, whether or not they ultimately lead to our well-being. Some of us drank. Some of us cried. Some of us prayed.

This week we watched how racial and economic injustice in this city and this region play out in violent institutional ways. We saw the stock exchange lights come back on before our neighbors in Chinatown had heat. We watched business return to usual in some parts of the city, demanding their employees return with them, while people waited on line for food and clean water, and others waited on the phone for hours to register with FEMA. Some of us walked many miles to make it to our workplaces, afraid our jobs wouldn't be there if we weren't. Some of us stayed at home in our pajamas for days, wishing our company's servers would come on so we could return to our normal routines. We felt how estranged we are in this city from each other, which people are valued over others, and how in the most difficult times, poor people are always at the greatest risk.

Yet, this week we were sewn together. We called and texted and emailed to find out if everyone was alright. We reached out to people we hadn't talked to for days or weeks or years. We checked in on our neighbors. We stayed in each others' homes. We comforted each other. We laughed together. We made food and felt relief in each others' embraces. We rediscovered the intimacy that comes when our days are altered and time seems to move more slowly.

People who made it through the storm unhurt got quickly to work. Generosity abounded. Donations poured in faster than organizations could gather them. Volunteers flooded shelters and highrises and donation sites, seeming to dry the water by their presence. We walked up and down high rise buildings to deliver food. We unpacked supply carts and filled prescriptions. We canvassed neighborhoods with fliers about needed services. We cooked huge amounts of food for people we'd never met. We stocked up on supplies and drove them, carried them, biked them, or pushed them by shopping carts to areas hardest hit. We used our creativity, our networks, our money, and our energy to do right by our neighbors. We remembered how much we need each other.

This week we relied on our relationships. At Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, we turned to the leadership of our partners -- CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, the Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality), and other community organizations -- to know what work needed to be done for those hardest hit by the storm. The response was overwhelming. CAAAV put the word out for needed volunteers. The next day, 500 volunteers were there. GOLES reached out to us to post their volunteer needs. The next day 400 people were at their door, and the following day 1,000 volunteers came by. Outside of institutional responses, we saw leaders in the JFREJ community take it upon themselves to organize donation drives, shuttles, gas lines for those most in need, and performances for children at shelters to keep spirits up and our hearts connected. I have never been prouder to be part of the JFREJ community.

The aftermath isn't over. Some of us still don't have electricity and others are afraid to turn theirs on for fear of fires. Some of us are still living in shelters and normalcy hasn't even begun to return. The long term effects of this storm will be felt for weeks, months, possibly years, especially by those already suffering under racial and economic injustice. JFREJ will continue to post out volunteer needs on the website throughout the coming week, and as long as it may take. At the same time, will continue our long-term work for racial and economic justice in New York, side-by-side with our partners. Together, we will work to undermine the systems that enable inequality, isolation, and institutional violence to occur.

We are connected to so many people who know how to sew this city together. For that, I am abundantly grateful.

Marjorie Dove Kent
Executive Director
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice