Jacobs Ladder: Reform movement’s staging ground in Utica

The Union for Reform Judaism announced that Utica will be the site of Jacobs Ladder, a project that will enable the Union to effectively collect, organize and distribute thousands of dollars worth of goods and supplies flowing from Reform Jewish congregations nationwide to the victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast.

The Union will stock supplies in a 24,000-square-foot vacant warehouse in Utica, close to the Union’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp.
On Sept. 6, the Utica city council voted unanimously to allow the Union to use this facility as a staging and distribution area, and to waive the cost of utilities to the building. Volunteers from the Utica area as well as from congregations throughout North America will participate in this historic effort.

“The Union for Reform Judaism has never before undertaken a project like this but there has never before been a natural disaster as devastating as Hurricane Katrina,” said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice-president of the Union, who will be in Mississippi Friday to help launch the project. “When one American is in pain, the entire American Jewish community is in pain. We are part of the fabric of this country, and our Jewish obligation is to mend that fabric when it tears.”

Jacob’s Ladder was established to respond to the hundreds of offers of food and supplies that poured in to Union headquarters from Reform Jews across North America in the aftermath of the hurricane. The Union’s 14 regional offices, located throughout the United States and Canada, will coordinate donations through individual congregations and ship them to Mississippi.

After sorting and stocking these donations, the Union will then turn them over to relief services, which will distribute them among evacuees from Mississippi and New Orleans who have made it to the area around Jackson.

Currently, the Union is accepting donations of supplies including bottled water, diapers, non-perishable foodstuffs, hygiene products, medical supplies and new blankets.

Jacobs Ladder is one of several disaster relief initiatives undertaken by the Union. In the first 10 days since the storm, more than $1 million has already been donated to the Union’s Disaster Relief Fund, and Jacobs Camp has housed Katrina evacuees since Aug. 28.

Jonathan Cohen, director of Jacobs Camp, conceived the idea of using the vacant warehouse as a staging area, and worked closely with Utica officials to make sure the plan became a reality. “If people have the resources and the desire to give to the victims of the hurricane, then we have a responsibility to make sure their donations” are utilized, said Cohen.