Rabbi Kenneth Hain prays that Long Islanders will never have to endure a disaster like Hurricane Katrina. But it gives him solace that if the worst does come to pass, his Beth Sholom congregation in Lawrence and other Orthodox Jews now have a place to keep safe that also enables them to abide by the mandates of their faith.
Last month, West Hempstead High School was designated as Nassau County’s first kosher hurricane shelter by the American Red Cross of Nassau County.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to recognize the diversity and cultural needs of the people we serve,” said Sam Kille, the Nassau chapter’s spokesman.
In this case, Orthodox beliefs dictate different dietary requirements and sleeping arrangements than what would be found at an average disaster shelter.
In West Hempstead High, located at 400 Nassau Dr., the Red Cross found a perfect location: It’s on higher ground than the vulnerable Five Towns area on the South Shore, but close enough that the Orthodox community that populates much of Five Towns can get there when trouble approaches.
The shelter when set up is large enough for men and women to sleep separately, and the Red Cross has purchased a large quantity of ready-to-eat meals that conform to the kosher diet.
As West Hempstead School District Deputy Superintendent Rich Cunningham explained, the supplies won’t be housed at the high school, but can be delivered within 24 hours should a storm be detected. The Red Cross would run operations at the high school, although the school district would make the custodial staff available to help.
The shelter is not exclusively for Orthodox Jews, shelter organizers stressed.
“I think the Red Cross has demonstrated outstanding vision in this issue,” Hain said, later adding, “They really pushed the issue by thinking through what we don’t like to think about and asking, ‘What if?’”