A little after 1 p.m. at the Islamic Center of Long Island Friday, Nancy Long nervously waited to finally meet the family she had set out to help a month ago.
Long, 29, of Hicksville, had been at home about a week after superstorm Sandy, eating breakfast and reading Newsday, when she saw an unforgettable image that propelled her to act.
In the photo, a distraught Aiden Guirl, 5, was bawling in his mother’s arms — his little face distorted by heaving sobs — as the contents of what was once his “Toy Story”-themed room were loaded into the trash. In the background, flood-damaged toys spilled into the street.
“I almost choked on my Cheerios,” Long said. “Just the expression on Aiden’s face — crying and crying. I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind all day.”
Long, a volunteer with the Islamic Center in Westbury, decided to help and reached out to Kelly Guirl, Aiden’s mom, through a Newsday reporter. About a month after Long and Guirl started emailing each other, they met for the first time Friday, Long standing excitedly next to a table heaped with household goods, food and nontoxic cleaning supplies that she had gathered with the help of the Center.
Guirl, 28, and her husband, Grant, son Aiden and daughter Briana, 2, had been renting a home in Broad Channel, Queens, when 5 feet of bay water mixed with oil from their heating-oil tank filled their house. They lost almost everything; and even items untouched by floodwaters reeked of oil.
The outreach from neighbors and strangers such as Long has been more than she could have imagined, Guirl said. Along with a gamut of household goods, Long also bought Aiden all three “Toy Story” DVDs — his were destroyed by the flood — and got Briana a gift card to the Build-A-Bear Workshop.
As they loaded the goods into boxes to pack into her car, Guirl’s mother, Debbie Silva, of Queens, said she’s been amazed at the way New Yorkers coalesced in the face of Sandy. “People in New York call it as it is, but when they need to help, they’re there,” she said.
“It’s been overwhelming, really,” Guirl said.
Muslim and Jews Provide Warmth and Food for Victims of Sandy
Over the past week, Muslims and Jews in cities across North America have been serving nourishing meals to hungry and homeless people as the centerpiece of the Weekend of Twinning, an annual event sponsored every November by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a New York-based not-for-profit working to strengthen ties of communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews. During this year’s fifth Annual Weekend of Twinning, 150 synagogues and mosques and 150 Muslim and Jewish organizations representing thousands of Muslims and Jews in more than 20 countries around the world are linking up and holding joint programs dedicated to strengthening ties between our communities and serving the larger societies in which we live side by side.
That shared commitment is enshrined in numerous citations in our respective Scriptures, the Torah and Qur’an. In Isaiah 58:7 it is written:
“It is to share your bread with the hungry and to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him.”
The Qur’an 76:8-9 reads:
“The righteous are those who feed the poor, the orphaned, and the captive for the love of God, saying: “We feed you for the sake of God Alone: we seek from thee neither reward nor thanks.”
These and numerous other passages from the scriptures and oral traditions of our faiths make clear that an essential part of being a good Jew or a good Muslim is devoting oneself to helping those in society who are most in need. By visiting soup kitchens, homeless shelters or other venues to feed hungry people, modern-day Muslims and Jews can share with each other the moral imperative in both faiths to do good in the world while working together to improve conditions for people of all backgrounds.
Here on Long Island, Islamic Center of Long Island of Westbury and Temple Israel of Lawrence with help from American Muslims for Hunger and Relief, Crescent School, Domestic Harmony Foundation, Long Island Muslim Society, Masjid Darul Quran, Muslim Peace Coalition, Solomon Schecter School, and Temple Sinai, took part in organizing this relief effort which delivered hundreds of blankets, warm winter coats, and tons of non-perishable food.
It cannot be overlooked that this year the Weekend of Twinning is taking place against the grim backdrop of the explosion of armed conflict in Israel and Gaza. Many of the Muslim and Jewish participants in Weekend of Twinning events around the world have expressed sorrow over the death and destruction being endured by our brothers and sisters in the conflict zone, and have offered heartfelt prayers for peace.