Baltimore-Florida Connections Stay Strong During Irma

From left: Bezalel Perlman of Seasons, Frank Storch of The Chesed Fund and Project Ezra of Greater Baltimore, Herman Berlin and Zachary Richards of Seasons help load a trailer of supplies bound for South Florida. (Photo provided)

With relief efforts still underway for victims of Hurricane Harvey, Jewish agencies and individuals in Baltimore stepped up again, as Hurricane Irma ripped across Florida, leaving millions more people in need of aid.

Hurricane Irma was one of the most powerful recorded storms to strike the United States. When it slammed into the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, its winds were more than 140 mph. Tracing a shaky path along the state’s Gulf Coast, as of press time the storm had killed 12 Floridians and left up to 15 million without electricity.

Frank Storch, director of The Chesed Fund and Project Ezra of Greater Baltimore, purchased a trailer, filled it with emergency food and supplies from a last-minute donation drive at Seasons kosher market in Pikesville and got it on the road last Friday morning before the storm hit South Florida so it would be as close as possible when relief efforts began.

The trailer, with Mike Sugarman of Pikesville at the wheel, arrived at Chesed of South Florida in North Miami Beach late Monday afternoon.

“They have already started unloading everything and getting it to the people who need it,” Storch said Monday. “They are thrilled. We wanted to get 10 hours ahead of the game, instead of traveling after everything was over.”

In addition to the trailer, 3,500 flashlights, lanterns and respirators were purchased by Chesed before the storm and are on the way to South Florida.

“There were so many people who got flooded out, it’s horrible what went on. Thank goodness things were not as bad as they could have been,” Storch said. “They were all very thankful they only got some of the blow.”

Rabbi Marc Blatt of Owings Mills grew up in Orlando. He and his wife, Rachel (who grew up in Clearwater and now works at Beth Israel), kept tabs on family members throughout the storm and its aftermath.

Last week, Blatt’s grandmother and aunt evacuated from Deerfield Beach to his parents’ home in Orlando. Everyone sheltered in place, including his wife’s parents in Clearwater and brother-in-law and sister-in-law in St. Petersburg. Only his in-laws in Clearwater lost power — for 13 hours on Monday. Everyone else had electricity and even cable TV and were able to communicate with Blatt and his wife during and after the storm.

Blatt counts his family as lucky, considering the wreckage Irma left behind. No one had major damage. But his parents had prepared themselves in the event of a hurricane.

“My parents in the past five years put in hurricane-rated windows. They had their roof replaced,” Blatt said. “The worst it got for them, there was some flooding of the driveway, just past the sidewalk.”

Sarah Topper Cook rode her bike to the grocery store with her daughter on Tuesday afternoon, the only business open on her neighborhood’s small Main Street area in Bay Harbor Islands about a mile from the ocean on Biscayne Bay.

Cook, 42, lived in Randallstown and Park Heights before moving to Florida in 2000. She lives with her family on the second floor of a six-story, reinforced concrete condo with hurricane shutters, where they stayed put as Irma made its way across Florida. There was no major damage to their building, beyond a few leaks, and no flooding on their street, although trees and electrical wires were down. They were without electricity Saturday evening to midday Monday; some neighbors were still without power Tuesday, and streets a block away were flooded. Phone service on Tuesday was spotty.

“The building next to us that does not have hurricane shutters and has older-style windows has a lot of windows out,” she said. “I was very surprised, because we’re on an island, that we didn’t get more flooding than we did.”

As Florida residents slowly return to their homes this week, Jewish community professionals there are taking stock of Irma’s effects. Emilie Socash, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Paco counties, said on Monday that the federation is located in an area where 70 percent of residents lost electricity. But others had it worse.

“At this point, we are tremendously grateful for the minimal damage that Irma inflicted, although we anticipate that over the next few days we will likely discover emergent facility problems needing urgent attention,” she wrote in an email on Monday.

The level of concern was higher for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, where four of 11 Jewish day schools are located in Miami Beach, which experienced significant flooding and downed trees, said chief planning officer Michelle Labgold.

Some 21,000 people live in Jewish households in Miami Beach, and another 7,000 live in the downtown Miami neighborhood of Brickell, which also experienced major flooding, Labgold said.

“As Miami Beach and other areas were under mandatory evacuation, our agencies helped older adults make plans to evacuate and in some cases provided transportation,” she said.

Avi Frier moved to Boca Raton in 1992, two weeks before Hurricane Andrew hit and got married two weeks after. A Talmudical Academy graduate who grew up in Park Heights, Frier now lives in Hollywood, Fla.

“We celebrated our 25th anniversary eating in a restaurant while they were putting shutters up on the windows last week,” he said on Tuesday from Hollywood, where power had been out since Sunday afternoon.

Frier and his family decided to shelter in place during the storm as they were not in an evacuation zone. Although his single-story home has a reinforced roof, it does not have hurricane shutters, so Frier put plywood over all the windows.

Frier’s neighborhood didn’t flood, although many trees were down. “Our personal damage was the same as a lot of our neighbors, we lost trees and we lost fences,” he said.

Besides Hurricane Andrew, the Friers lived through Wilma and Katrina. “We got to see back then firsthand how neighborly everybody becomes and how nice everybody is to everybody else,” he said. “And we saw that again this time.”

Mike Sugarman of Pikesville Tree Service helps clear debris in Hollywood, Fla. (Photo provided)

In Baltimore, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has a relief fund for victims of Hurricane Irma. Working with partners at Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) and with FEMA, The Associated is coordinating with government and nonprofits. Donations may be made online at, or checks may be mailed to 2017 Hurricane Relief Fund, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, 101 W. Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201

The Jewish Federation of Howard County is directing people to The Jewish Federations of North America for its Hurricane Irma relief efforts. For more information or to make a donation, go to Checks may be mailed to The Jewish Federations of North America, Wall Street Station, P.O. Box 157, New York, NY 10268.

For more information about The Chesed Fund and Project Ezra, to volunteer or to download emergency guidelines, go to Contact Frank Storch at 410-340-1000 or 410-486-0800, ext. 113, or email Monetary donations can be sent to Project Ezra of Greater Baltimore, 3209 Fallstaff Road, Baltimore, MD 21215.

Washington Jewish Week political reporter Dan Schere contributed to this report.


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