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Hurricane Relief Updates

Irma/Maria Update #6 & Sukkos Reflections

Since our last update we have been driving around the streets with volunteers and the national guard distributing supplies and generators to the badly affected neighborhoods, shelters, the Tutu area, public housing communities, family resource center, the hospital and senior care facilities.

The containers with generators which was donated specifically for families with children, people with disabilities and health issues, arrived and was distributed! We are working with another group on more generators.

At night, hundreds more lights now dot our mountainous terrain, each home an entire world. Showers, laundry, water, refrigeration, lights, homework, games etc. How rewarding...

Thank you to our group out of Miami for all the logistical help and tireless efforts!!

On the next container there are enough extension cords and gas canisters for all the families who benefited from the generators. Also donated specifically for this project... Practical supplies are so important...

We partnered with a very special soul - Mrs. Maekya Phillips and her family - and provided delicious hot meals to hundreds of people at the Udorea Kean Highschool. The setting was friendly and picknick-like, allowing fellow islanders the environment to share their experiences and coping ideas. Hearing people comment how this was their first hot meal in almost a month was sad yet heartwarming.

If we have the funding we hope to continue this partnership throughout the next few weeks, please G-d.

A special moment was donning Tefillin for the first time and celebrating the destination (sort of...) Bar Mitzvah with lieutenant Matthew (Mordechai) Arnold who is stationed here with The National Guard, out of Virginia.

We are working with various local organizations to coordinate a massive distribution of 10,000 beautiful pieces of clothing for the island community! Thank you Mr. David Shottenstein for this generous gift!

Friends, I am proud to say that with your help and support we have been at the forefront and a leader in the island-wide relief efforts! It has been a huge kiddush hashem!

Please share our activities with friends, orgs and foundations who can be of help!! 

I only wish we had more hands, feet, wheels, resources, a better central source of information, and most importantly, the ability to share more love and inject more healing to the many broken hearts... 


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We are now celebrating the Holiday of Sukkot. During these seven days we exchange the comforts of our homes for temporary outdoor shelter. Some of us will sit with our families and friends in beautifully decorated Sukkah's enjoying a pleasant breeze and the sounds of crickets under freshly cut foliage while gazing at the many stars and a full moon...

As a nation we will recall our long difficult journey, through the desert to the promised land, and how the divine clouds of glory cushioned and protected us from all forms of danger.

We will talk to our children about the temporary nature of human life, how the material is but a vehicle to express the divine and about our true priorities in this world.

It will be easier for us to empathize with the suffering of our fellow human brothers and sisters whose permanent homes are the likes of our transient Sukkah's. 

We will discuss how we can work together to usher-in the promised era when "there will be no hunger, wars and jealousy for delicacies will be accessible as the dust of the earth", an era where the state of human consciousness will be elevated to a deeper dimension, "for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters covers the sea bed."

And, sitting under the vast heavenly expanse we will feel that mix of vulnerability and comfort as we are enveloped by the Sukkah's divine embrace.

In the Virgin Islands, I have been feeling the theme of Sukkot more than ever before... In fact I would say that our entire 32 sq mile island has become one big Sukkah!

And no... not just because many homes don't have roofs...

Here's why... The Sukka is the only Mitzvah that fully encompasses us! While there are restrictions as to the hight, material and shape, there is no limit to it's length. The Talmud teaches us that "the entire congeragation is worthy of sitting in one and the same Sukka." Under the Sukkah's collective embrace there is room for everyone!

This joyous Holiday represents unity!! A season where we put aside our differences, stature and class, and remember that from a heavenly perspective we are all one community dwelling together, each contributing and bringing completion to another.

This dear friends is the real story of the Virgin Islands. Henya and I are humbled to see the selflessness, care and support people are lending one another under the most difficult of circumstances.

I met dozens of people who invited families, some very large families, whom they never met, to live in their homes. These are acts of G-d that rival the power of Irma and Maria.

Indeed, these times have brought out the very best of our fellow islanders and friends. One big island Sukkah...

During the last few days many friends stopped by for Yom Tov meals, to share a L'Chaim, make a blessing in the Sukkah'le we built, perform the Mitzvah of the four kinds and farbreng. 

On Thursday afternoon, a friend put me on the spot and asked - Rabbi, how do you find meaning in all the pain and devastation? I didn't answer.  I couldn't answer. How can I answer?

Later that evening, another guest focused our attention to the beautiful affects of the full moon that always accompanies the onset of the Sukkot festival.

I thought to myself... The winds and storms of (Irma) Maria mercilessly battered us 15 days earlier on the eve of Rosh Hashana, a time when the moon was concealed... Indeed, it was one of the most suppressing and diminishing experiences our island has ever faced.

And yet, the moon has renewed itself in full glory during this season of our rejoicing...

I don't have an answer for human suffering. Nobody knows why some of us endure such disturbing, painful and shattering challenges. I stand in awe of these souls...

But it was then that I was reminded how in Hebrew the word test "nisa" comes from the word "nes," which means an elevated banner. In other words, experiencing a test or setback can also be translated as experiencing elevation.

In Judaism, the function of every test is to invite us to go much deeper into ourselves and excavate our full inner radiance, discovering the resources and potential we need in order to face these tests and triumph.

It is these challenging times that raise our sense of awareness and bring out the best within us. It brings out our ultimate, highest and truest being. A self we never knew existed. It propels us to move away from "who I am" towards the "who I can become..."

These mightily challenging times help each of us, little moons, fully reflect the light of the sun until the time when "the light of the moon will shine as the light of the sun, as it was before it was diminished."

Friends, there will be renewal, greater opportunity and a brighter future! The island is slowly returning to its natural green color, the turquoise waters are now still, sparkling and gorgeous. The view is even better than before. We are and will remain one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Z'man Simchateinu... Let us celebrate with joy the potential of our full moon and the gift of an elevated perspective.

But for now, we cannot forget those who are deeply hurting and need us most. We must continue to provide the basic necessities for our island brothers and sisters! And enable the Chabad House to serve as a source of comfort, meaning and Yiddishe discovery for our island community.

Please help us if you can by contributing here.

"May the merciful One rebuild for us the fallen Sukkah of David" and may we all merit the protection and shield of "Sukkat shlomecha"!

Chag Sameach and much love VI!!

Asher 

Tefillin & The National Guard

Big Mazal Tov lieutenant Matthew (Mordechai) Arnold, out of Virginia, on celebrating his destination (kind of...) Bar Mitzvah at the S. Thomas armory!! First time Tefillin.

Another reason to be stationed in STT!!

Thank you to the National Guard for your service and presence!

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Spiritual Relief! Our Lulav & Esrog Have Arrived!

 Jared Bernstein who is serving as Mr. Michael Bloomberg's liaison to work with Governor Mapp over the coming months made a special stop in Jet Center STT with a hand delivered lulav & etrog for the holiday of Sukkot! Thank you Jared!

Was a pleasure meeting and being able to provide Jason Blair of the US Army Corp Engineer a pair of Tefillin, Tallis, Siddur and Machzor for Yom Kippur and the weeks ahead.

Keep up the work you are doing!

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Irma/Maria Update #5

It has been a long week since the last update. It certainly feels like we are in another year...

During hurricane Maria the AT&T towers in PR were damaged and the more reliable provider was out on most of the island. Yesterday signal strengthened.

We have no words to express our thanks for all the private messages, support and concern. B"H, other than flooding, losing another new AC unit, freezer, and chairs, our home did much better than during hurricane Irma. Maria brought a lot more water than Irma and was excruciatingly difficult for islanders with damaged homes. Some, particularly friends who live on the north side, reported Maria being more difficult than Irma.

On Sunday Henya and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Ralph Evert's tragic passing. He was killed after a mudslide buried his home. We Bar Mitzvah'd Ralph and Julie's wonderful son Charlie a few years ago, and are filled with pain for them and their loved ones. May he rest in peace.

A 24 hour curfew was in effect for the first day of Rosh Hashana to allow clearing of the roads and put safety precautions in place to protect from the mud slides.

Rosh Hashana without Henya and the kids was a difficult first. Fortunately, members of the community moved in for Yom Tov and a constant flow of visitors who joined to pray, hear Shofar and enjoy the food on hand was cheering. (Much of the prepared kosher food did not make it to STT thanks to a 4:30am no-show by the security guard scheduled to open the freezers of an apartment building in FL the morning of the flight, but that's for another time...)

Many of the familiar prayers had new breadth, depth and dimension... The contrasting of the eternal and Almighty king with human frailty, the limited human capacity to understand the ways of G-d, the fate of countries, life's unpredictability, the determination and unyielding optimism of our ancestors in the face of challenge and setback etc...

On the second day, after services, myself and two friends ventured out to blow Shofar for Jewish neighbors. It was very meaningful and emotional. In every home the words "May the fountain of my eyelids, flowing as a stream, be accepted before you" weren't just poetic... I brought a machzor along so we could recite together some of the prayers...

At one point we made it to the entrance of the Ritz Carlton hotel. Ordinarily, the calm ambiance, white sand beach and elegant architecture would make for a few blissful Jews happy to hear the Shofar. Now, the place felt desolate and ruined.

I approached the US Marines who had barricaded the entrance and asked if any of their comrades were celebrating the Jewish New Year. "Yes, there are two of us who are! Last night Noah was telling our whole group about the Jewish Rosh Hashana while we were all going to sleep". Unbelievable, I thought to myself, the spirit of our people... V'Chol ma'aminim... The depth of Jewish faith in the literal darkest of nights...

The two marines were in complete disbelief when they saw us "Hashem has remembered me on this day!" one exclaimed. I went on to explain the theme of Zichronos - "Who is not recalled on this day? For the remembrance of every created being comes before you", how NOTHING AND NOBODY are forgotten by G-d.

A group of non Jewish soldiers assembled around us. I then explained the significance of the simple, honest, primal cry of the Shofar and how it pierces the heavens. A few of them were from Puerto Rico and had not yet heard word from family. We said a prayer for their loved ones. You can sense how deeply moved everyone was. Hearing Noah chant the blessing Lishmoah Kol Shofar and Shehechiyanu in that "still soft voice" was a moment I will never forget. A moment I never imagined in a place known to be the epitome of pleasure and relaxation.

Walking back up the hill - newly Bar mitzvah'd Sorin Gibbs (one of the few family employees staying at the hotel) shouted out to us from a balcony. While continuing the walk up hill I must of blown the Shofar for him and his family loud enough to be heard in S. John...

We made it back home with a few minutes before Shabbos and enough time to pray the final prayer of the new year... I must confess... Many of the prayers talk about the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Many of the prayers talk about the gathering of the dispersed. I couldn't help but think about the island and all our dear friends who have temporarily left but whose souls are here. I prayed for the broken hearts in our community, for the mental and emotional well being of those who are suffering, for our healing. I prayed for peace and security. I prayed that G-d give us strength to get through these challenging times. I prayed that from the narrowness of the Shofar's mouth blast forth expanse and plentiful in the coming year and beyond. I prayed for the strength of our community and that the Virgin Islands be restored to its full beauty and charm! I prayed that G-d give me strength, health, resources, wisdom and courage to grow and be there for others.

And I prayed... And I prayed... together with Henya 1,400 miles close... We prayed... that "G-d who sees on this day from one end of the world to the other, from the beginning of generations to the end" bless us to merit children and grandchildren, to the end of generations, who will follow in the Rebbe's ways and one day join us in serving and adding yiddishe warmth to our beloved Virgin Islands communities until the coming of Moshiach.

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Yesterday, another container filled with aid, food and supplies arrived. Today we will be distributing it with the family resource center in S. Thomas and are working on transportation to get a good portion to those who need it in S. John.

Berel, Mendel, myself, and other volunteers have been driving around specific neighborhoods distributing meals and supplies in conjunction with government officials and other helpful agencies.

Please G-d, the lieutenant governor will give the Jewish community a pass on curfew Friday evening for Kol Nidrei. Myself and Rabbi Michael Feshbach have reached out and are awaiting his response.

Thank you again for all of your help during this trying time. Your support and friendship means the world to us. We are overwhelmed by your care, concern and partnership.

If there was ever a time we could use help and support it is now! We have a long road ahead. Please consider us in your pre Yom Kippur contributions. Please share with friends who can help.

You can donate online at www.JewishVirginIslands.com/Donate

May you and yours be written and inscribed in the book of life for a sweet, healthy and prosperous year!

Rabbi Asher Federman Please enjoy this latest article.

http://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/3793169/jewish/As-High-Holidays-Approach-the-Virgin-Islands-So-Does-Hurricane-Maria.htm


Rabbi Asher Prepares For Rosh Hashana...And Maria...

Henya posting here as we've already lost communication with Asher. Wishing our strong, resilient, tight knit island community a Happy, healthy, sweet, safe, and dry new year! Stay safe and strong, and may these torrential rains and winds turn to water of blessing and growth! My heart is in the VI! Enjoy the article below!

Rabbi prepares for Rosh Hashanah and a new onslaught of severe weather

Irma/Maria Update #4

 

With Maria approaching as another possible category 5 hurricane, G-d forbid, community members are fearful and scurrying to once again secure their possessions while trying to stock up on limited provisions in an already difficult and draining situation. 

Thank G-d yesterday's aid arrived. We spent much of the day coordinating with other local humanitarian organizations to make sure that the supplies make their way into the hands of those who need it most. We distributing food & water in targeted neighborhoods that need it most.

Sometimes one needs to see firsthand the worry and perhaps despair of another to feel what they are going through. It is heart-wrenching to see the pleading eyes of a thirsty precious little girl whose family lost their home and has been displaced since. 

Please just know... All of the organizations and individuals who have contributed (through your volunteering, resources, and monetary contributions), have brought hundreds of smiles to people who are deeply hurting. Thank you!!!

It's unfortunate that a lot of additional supplies are now stuck in transit or postponed due to Maria. We hope to get it as soon as possible.

As of this morning an additional 5,000 pieces of clothing have been donated to our efforts in the VI and will be shipped out next week along with over 100 pallets of food and supplies. If you have any helpful transportation connections please let us know.

Please help us continue our work and spread the word. You can contribute here

Thanks to our dear friends Pam Berkowsky & Adam Shapiro who flew in yesterday for a few hours and brought some Rosh Hashana provisions and other relief, we are happy to share that while uncertain whether or not people will be able to join for Services Wednesday night, we have prepared packages of kosher MRE's, apples, honey, and pomegranate for every single member of the community to celebrate at home. I am currently on the road distributing them.

Please spread the word as many locals do not have a way of reading this.

Myself and, Rabbi's Mendel and Berel will remain on the east end during the coming storm so as to be able to have services and host guests once the storm passes and blow Shofar for the many Jews who have remained on island. If you can't make services, please come by anytime you can for warm words of Torah, Shofar, a meal and Rosh Hashana spirit.

Rosh Hashana marks the birthday of mankind. The day it all began. Each year a new energy animates the world bringing new levels of healing, blessings and opportunity. 

The Zohar teaches that after Divine harshness comes much mercy, sweetness and kindness.

Virgin Islands stay strong! The destruction will yet be viewed as a painful plowing of the field that will sprout forth greener lush, stronger roots, taller trees, sweeter fruit, more beauty, tranquillity and grace.

The lights of the harbor will yet shine brighter than ever!

G-d! Please keep Maria away... for the sake of the special character of the Virgin Islands community who have gone through enough and are filled with kindness, love, hope, compassion and Mitzvot as the seeds fill the pomegranate.

May it be your will, oh G-d, that we all be blessed with a good and sweet New Year.

As for now, the winds are beginning to blow and I must head back east. 

Much love. Stay safe. Together, we will get through this. With an aching but hopeful heart directed to the coming year.

Candle lighting Times:

Wednesday September 20th Eve of Rosh Hashana: 5:59

Thursday, September 21st 2nd Eve of Rosh Hashana: After 6:49 from pre-existing flame

Friday September 22nd Shabbat Eve: 5:58

Asher & Henya Federman

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Wednesday eve - 6:30pm Services followed by community dinner.

Thursday morning - 9:30am Shacharis 11:30 sermon & Shofar blowing. 1pm - lunch.

Same schedule day 2. 

Shabbos Services 10:00 am

Irma Relief Update #3

 

Dear Friends,

We cannot express enough how thankful and grateful we are for the support and encouragement we continue to receive during these difficult days.

We are working day by day with the natural setbacks and inherent challenges of the current situation. Your encouragement serves as emotional and spiritual "fuel" to power our determination and resilience to do what we can for our beloved island community. 

Thank you!

Aside from dealing with the paralysis of two flat tires, yesterday brought some great news. United airlines kindly agreed to fly in much of the Houston container of supplies to help the Chabad relief efforts. It has arrived in Puerto Rico and is in transit to the island. We've also secured an additional pallet of meals, bringing the total to 2400 MRE meals, pallets of water, more generators, tarps and other vital supplies. 

The generators, chainsaws etc. arrived yesterday from Puerto Rico! We are hoping to have one of our student Rabbi's scour PR again for more generators next week!

The torrential rains yesterday were a major challenge for all those who have not yet been able to cover their roofs... and those who have other forms of damage to their homes.

A group of incredible volunteers in FL arranged for a few pallets of supplies to be flown into PR arriving today as well! Costco and other local stores donated some of the supplies.

Longer term the same group in Florida is putting together a 40 ft container (possibly 2) to be shipped down next week.

And perhaps the most exciting and vital of all... We have located a supplier of 400 generators of various sizes, and are in communication with a few extraordinarily generous people and organizations to either sponsor or subsidize them on a first come first serve basis for the island community. Please G-d, all falls in place, they will be shipped from the main land early next week.

During the evening we drove to various homes to drop off generators. The sheer joy and relief we encountered of being able to have a few running fans, refrigeration and water is indescribable. 

It is difficult to express the eerie feeling of driving through the roads on our way back. The deafening silence of the curfew and the quieter darkness that is almost palpable on the roads.

We remain strong and hopeful. We get through this bigger and better. The flowers will yet bud.

Let us know if we can be of help in ANY way. 

Please join us for Shabbos Services tomorrow at 1pm. We can all use the spiritual nourishment and community camaraderie.

Due tocurfew we are working hard to ensure that the community will have special permission to come out wednesday night for Rosh Hashana Dinner. We are scheduling full holiday dinners and services. Details to follow after shabbos.

Please cosider partnering with us. May the good deeds made possible through you be your reward and may you and yours be blessed with a happy, healthy, and sweet new year!

www.JewishVirginIslands.com/Donate

Latest news coverage:

http://nypost.com/2017/09/14/irma-damage-in-virgin-islands-a-humanitarian-crisis-survivor/

http://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/3788136/jewish/Emergency-Airlift-from-Houston-Flotilla-from-Puerto-Rico-Deliver-Aid-to-St-Thomas.htm

Wishing you a dry and peaceful shabbos!

With love and gratitude,

Asher & Henya

NY Post: Irma damage in Virgin Islands a ‘humanitarian crisis’: survivor

Wonderful article in the NYPost. Blessed to be part of the Rebbe's Army of shluchim!

http://nypost.com/2017/09/14/irma-damage-in-virgin-islands-a-humanitarian-crisis-survivor/

Irma Relief Update #2

 

B"H

Dear Friends,

Henya and I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the outpouring of support and encouragement you have showered us with over these trying last few days. Each message and contribution from our friends and loved ones has buoyed our efforts and made much easier these toughest of times.

First of all, we are, thank G-d, well, if somewhat taxed, in body but not in spirit.

Cell phone service is still extremely spotty and in some areas completely out, but even so we’ve received messages from so many of you inquiring about the overall state of affairs on the ground of the island home we love and visit.

It’s not pretty.

The landscape in some places is so scarred from fallen trees and damaged structures as to be almost unrecognizable. While the national guard and good neighborhood citizens have cleared main roads, there is still a lot of dangerous debris and critical cleaning that needs to be done. Many people are occupied with securing the most basic of human needs – shelter, food, and safety. Food refrigeration, cell phone charging, water pumps, laundry, toilet etc. Are a challenge for those without generators. There is a new found appreciation for the "luxury" of a simple shower.

A large percentage of the local police officers have suffered extensive damage to their homes and are pre-occupied. The national guard and the US Marine Corp are deployed to establish order and prevent looting, robberies etc.

Water is scarce. Other provisions are also running low. We've received texts and calls from dear friends letting us know that they are subsisting on their last bits of food.

Through all of this, we are doing our best to assist, provide, comfort, and be there for everyone all the time!

It is so heartwarming and special to see the utter selflessness and generous spirit displayed by our community, our neighboring islands, and caring individuals on the mainland. Just yesterday 25 vessels, organized by members of our Chabad community, traveled back and forth from Puerto Rico to St Thomas in addition to other private boats and coast guard cutters which are filled with aid and supplies furnished by the government and citizens of Puerto Rico, and return with evacuees. 

We are coordinating with our friends in the Chabad community of Houston, Texas, just recovering from a natural disaster of their own, to ship a 40-foot container of provisions and much needed aid supplies including generators, diapers, baby formula, batteries and etc.

The way people have responded to this catastrophic challenge is astounding and has moved us deeply. Thank you to all of you in the community who have volunteered to help. Special shout out to Danny and Angelica Charak, true angels who have spent the last few days tirelessly coordinating plane and boat trips from Puerto Rico! Thank you John Attias and Elana Harthman! Thank you Gary Manning, Benji Schwartz and the list goes on...

A student Rabbi spent the day scouring Puerto Rico for generators and we've succeeded in locating stock which will arrive this afternoon in STT along with chain saws and other vital food & supplies particularly for the elderly. Thank you Adam Israel for transporting it on your boat!

There is a lot more to share and I will do that as best I can. For now, it's time to leave one of the 3 open WiFi spots that were set up on island and head out East.

Friends, we will need to lean on you heavily in the coming weeks and months, and we hope you can be of help. Please share with your friends and family or anyone else who might find the heart to join us in this cause. Every bit counts!

We will use the funds to finish collecting and shipping the aforementioned 40 ft container with over 1,000 MREs, generators, and other basic necessities. We will continue to assist the community here in any way possible, and provide for the upcoming high holiday and sukkot season.

For those of you reading this on island: Come hurricane or fire but Shabbat lunch will be at our place, usual time. Please join us!

Consider helping us out over here. www.JewishVirginIslands.com/irma Thank you for your participation in these vital efforts!

Enjoy this article about some of our relief work. Here Not Only When The Sun is Shining!

With deep gratitude and much appreciation,

Asher & Henya

Virgin Islands Rabbi - Here Not Only When The Sun Is Shining

http://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/3783830/jewish/Virgin-Islands-Rabbi-Here-Not-Only-When-the-Sun-Is-Shining.htm

Chabad VI - Irma Update

Dear Friend,

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your thoughts, prayers and well wishes. Your friendship and concern means so much to us! If we didn't manage to get back to you, please understand that we are working with one phone that has sporadic service and even less internet ability.

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  Please help us! Please partner with us!

Our beautiful island of S. Thomas took a direct hit from hurricane Irma sustaining catastrophic damage. The island we all know and love is reeling from the utter devastation and destruction of its infrastructure. The hospital, airport, Cost U Less, Price Smart, many hotels and the University are all amongst the buildings and landmarks that have been badly ruined. By most estimations it will take 4-6 months to restore power.

With little options for evacuation, and minimal ability to bring in aid, many of us are are deeply concerned and hurting. While filled with tremendous gratitude to G-d that our family is physically ok, the new reality is settling in. Our island is devastated. Many friends have lost their homes, cars and businesses.

At this critical moment the purpose of our mission is as clear as ever. We need to help rebuild, raise morale, give hope and bring the comforting warmth of Yiddishkeit to the island. 

We are reaching out to our friends, family and all those who have been touched by Chabad Virgin Islands since our establishment 12 years ago to please partner with us in rebuilding our lives and the lives of our community.

Now more then ever we need to be able to provide counseling, Shabbos dinners, high holiday services, home visitations and offer other forms of aid and relief.

Please help us! Please partner with us!

May the good deeds made possible by you be your reward and may you and yours be inscribed for an exceptionally happy, healthy, and sweet New Year!

With much love and gratitude,

Asher and Henya Federman 

The site of our home after the storm. 23709278_1504840807.7373_funddescription.jpg

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