Jews In St. Martin Prep For Shabbos Amid Hurricane Irma’s Devastation

SIGHS OF (SOME) RELIEF: Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz, co-director of Chabad of St. Martin/St. Maarten, checks in with Jewish community members on the devastated Caribbean island. In the days since Hurricane Irma hit, he and his wife, Sara, have been reaching out to friends, neighbors and community members to account for everyone

It’s been a long three days on the island of St. Martin. On Tuesday evening, it was an idyllic tropical getaway. By 10 a.m. the next morning, it was a decimated shadow of itself, having taken six hours of pummeling from Hurricane Irma.

Shocking photos show roofless homes, cars and boats piled up like children’s playthings, with debris everywhere. The death toll on the French side of the dual-nationality island has been revised down to four, but officials are warning that it could still rise as rescue teams begin their work.

Since the storm, Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz and his wife, Sara, co-directors of Chabad of St. Martin/St. Maarten, which is located on the Dutch side of the island, have been steadily making contact with Jewish community members, friends and neighbors to make sure they’re OK.

“I spent the whole day yesterday searching for people we know here,” says the rabbi. “Almost everyone has so far been accounted for, but there are still people missing.”

Power and communication went down during the storm, and have yet to resume, making check-up phone calls nearly impossible. Chanowitz, who rode out the storm with his family in their partially finished Chabad center, has a small generator that has allowed him to keep his phone powered, at least for now.

[More: Chabad Rabbi Of St Martin Says Irma ‘Destroyed The Island’ And “The Mikva Saved Us”]

For those concerned about their loved ones, the rabbi has been an integral link, passing on regards and notifying people that their family members are safe.

“Calls have been coming through from Israel, France, the United States—people looking for their family and who want to make sure they’re safe and being cared for,” he says by phone, while making his rounds on the island.

A woman, far left, stares from a rooftop at cars tossed about in a heap on the street

The U.S. Consulate General on the island of Curaçao estimates that some 6,000 Americans remain stuck on the island, whose airport was destroyed by Irma. Among those trapped are American students at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.

Friends and strangers, Jews and non-Jews, have also been regularly stopping by the Chabad center to use the cell phone there, one of the only ones in operation in the area.

Food and water are quickly becoming issues on St. Martin, and the Chanowitzes have been distributing the Chabad House’s stock to those passing through the center.

“We have a limited amount of water that we’re distributing, especially to children,” says the rabbi. “Whatever food we have, sandwiches, granola bars, applesauce . . . we’re sharing with people.”

Sara Chanowitz, center, with people who stopped by the Chabad center, where they found food, water, companionship and support.

Rebuild From Here

Chanowitz reports that seemingly everyone on the island has suffered extensive damage to their homes and/or property. The islands of Barbuda (which was leveled), Antigua, Anguilla, St. Barts and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been similarly hard-hit.

As Shabbat approaches, the rabbi continues to make rounds, attempting to contact every last person and offer whatever help he can.

“We are among the thousands of people here hit, and luckily, we were spared and are able to help,” he says. “But there are members of my community who have lost their homes, businesses—everything. Whether it’s their hotel or a jewelry store, they’re going to have to rebuild from nothing.”

Some 6,000 Americans are estimated to be stuck on the island, including students at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. The rabbi visited the campus to account for Jewish students and others he has been contacted about, making sure that they are safe and have what they need.


Click here to donate to Chabad of St. Maarten/St. Martin hurricane relief fund.