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Brooklyn houses of worship deal with Ida deluge

The flooded basement of Masjid Makki on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood.
Courtesy of Masjid Makki

Last week’s flooding from Hurricane Ida has strained Brooklyn’s houses of worship, with many sites dealing with severe water damage — wiping out many people’s spiritual outlets amid a traumatic event.

More than a dozen people died across the city in the massive deluge. The federal government issued a “Major Disaster Declaration” for Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx, with hundreds of homes severely damaged. Gov. Kathy Hochul said over the weekend that damages are likely far in excess of $50 million. 

In Williamsburg, crews worked to save treasured Torahs from a flooded basement at the Sambor Shul on Walton Street on the night of Sept 1. Four Sifrei (handwritten) Torahs were carried out of the basement at the Satmar synagogue by crews that included volunteers with Williamsburg’s Hatzalah (ambulance), Shomrim (neighborhood watch), and Chaverim (mutual aid) networks, as captured in dramatic footage by the Williamsburg News agency. Borough President Eric Adams visited Sambor on Sept 2.

Williamsburg News reported that Sambor was fully cleaned up in time for Shabbos on Friday night, Sept 4.

Nearby, crews similarly rescued Sifrei Torahs from the flooded Oir Yisroel Elimeilich Shul on Wythe Avenue. The floods came just days before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which begat at sundown Monday night.

Neither Sambor Shul nor the Satmar Headquarters could be reached for comment.

 

Many of the borough’s mosques also dealt with flooding, right before Friday prayers, or Jummah, the holiest time of the week.

Mosaab Sadeia, outreach coordinator with Majlis Ash-Shura, the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, was checking in with Imams and other leaders at mosques throughout the city in the wake of the storm. Many mosques are in basements, he said, which were most at risk of flooding in the storm, and where the bulk of storm deaths occurred.

Masjid At-Taqwa on Fulton Street saw its entire basement flood, the mosque posted on Facebook, and is asking for community donations to help ameliorate the damage. A brand new rug at the mosque was destroyed.

Mosques are often stocked with religious texts such as the Quran, and other works like the Hadith (the words of Muhammad) or religious scholarly texts, but for the most part, material texts aren’t treated as sacred since the text itself is so well known, and often recited from memory. However, the space of the mosque itself is considered holy, as a place where the community comes together to pray.

Flooding at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in WilliamsburgCourtesy of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

“Mosque space being compromised does make it difficult for people to fulfill prayer,” Sadeia said. “They could fulfill it outside the mosque, obviously. But the idea that that community space does get affected, and it is no longer there and has to be repaired, and that does have an effect on the community.”

Sadeia wasn’t expecting immediate assistance from the city, owing to the myriad of other flooding issues and infrastructure challenges that have plagued the city since Ida, but is hoping that both public and private assistance can help bring mosques back online fully, and recover financial losses that congregations suffered as a result of having to clean up the mess.

Churches bore the brunt as well. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Catholic Church in Williamsburg known for holding the annual Giglio feast, which returned this summer after a pandemic hiatus in 2020, saw its basement flooded after Ida, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Diocese said, and had to pump water from its parish hall and school building. The Diocese is working with churches across Brooklyn and Queens to assist cleanup efforts.

“The Diocese of Brooklyn’s facilities management team will continue to work with the churches and schools to help them navigate the recovery process,” said Brooklyn Diocese spokesperson John Quaglione. “We remember in our prayers the many people impacted by Hurricane Ida, and the individuals who lost their lives during this storm.”

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