By Zach Patberg
“We gather here tonight as we did after 9/11 to do what we should have been doing all along — becoming alert to each other's presence on this earth,” said Rabbi Hirsch Simckes at the Hollis Hills Jewish Center.”Although attendance here is not as strong as we'd like it to be, the response in the community has been overwhelming,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) to religious and political leaders along with a smattering of community residents.Framed by the musical interludes of Cantor Sol Zim, representatives of South Asian governments reported on the condition of their countries and the progress of worldwide relief efforts following last month's seismic disaster.Deputy Consul of Sri Lanka R. Jaya Sainghe gave staggering numbers: 50,000 killed on the island off of India, more than half children; 90,000 homes reduced to rubble; more than 66 percent of the Sri Lankan fishing industry destroyed.”What we need most is cash and medical care,” Sainghe said. “In the coming months as we build our country we will certainly continue to need your support.”Ashok Tomar, from the Indian consulate, said his country's first phase of relief was over and reconstruction had begun. Aid was needed, he said, to rehabilitate the displaced, find homes and schools for the orphans and reinstate the livelihoods of fishermen — most of whom lost their boats and nets, if not their lives, to the waves. India would need even more than the $250 million its government has set aside in the budget for such reparation, Tomar said.Thailand, which lost more than 5,300 people with thousands still missing, has also moved into the reconstruction phase, said the country's consulate representative, Pravit Chaimongkol. In the last three weeks, Thailand has approved $700 million for the effort. But what was sorely needed from outside nations were experts to educate relief workers on environment rehabilitation, technical repairs, job creation, sanitation and psychological treatment for traumatized victims, Chaimongkol said.”We should continue to come together in the face of common suffering,” he said.All the diplomats recognized the city for its support.New York Buddhist Council President Pundit Piyatissa was in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit and witnessed its toll. Three days later he came to his temple in Queens Village to find hundreds gathered outside amid heaps of donated items.”I don't know how it started,” the monk said at the service. “But the contributions from New Yorkers are wonderful.”Piyatissa said he planned to use the some $120,000 raised at the temple toward building a children's village for those young Sri Lankans whom are now parentless.Inside the Jewish Center, rabbis compared the cooperative relief efforts to the worldwide front to end the Holocaust and the compassion that resounded after Sept. 11. Cantor Sol Zim sang “We Are the World” and “You'll Never Walk Alone.”Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), one of the several Queens council members who attended, led the audience in the National Anthem.”Every adversity brings opportunity,” said Swarangit Singh, a Hindu from Punjab, India. “What the tsunami did, it brought all of us together.”Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.