Queens Village temple unites those praying for Sri Lanka

By Zach Patberg

Their fervent thoughts were for the survivors of the tsunami ruination. The amens were harmonious.Outside the New York Buddhist Vihara temple in Queens Village, others worked, sorting a ton of relief items into cardboard boxes destined for Sri Lanka — an island off India where 30,000 people were taken by the merciless sea. Somewhere between the prayers upstairs and the unending stream of donations dropped on the sidewalk, one felt the universal shock wave of humanity big-banged from those furious Indian Ocean waves. “True love is something we can all share,” Catholic priest Michael Camario said at Saturday's memorial service. “And we are all the same in suffering.”For those temple members with relatives hit hard along the southeast Asian coastlines, the disaster was personal. Asela Jayampathy told of his sister-in-law, her husband and 2-month-old baby's harrowing escape to high ground from their house in a small Indian town called Unawatuna, just east of Gaul. On Dec. 26, the sister-in-law was upstairs holding her child when she heard what sounded like a rumbling freight train growing louder. She looked out the window and saw the ocean rushing toward her. In a reaction Jayampathy called “delusional,” the woman first tried to hide the baby somewhere in the room. Then, still clutching the infant, she ran to the stairs, only to see that the water had flooded the first floor and was climbing the steps. But the great tsunami tide soon receded toward the beach. In knee-deep water, she sprinted out of the house and followed the remnants of screaming people to the nearest hill. The sight of dead dogs floating in the water was branded on her brain. Her husband joined his wife and child at a shelter once calamity subsided. Their family was intact, but they had lost everything.It was for survivors like these that Michelle Fisher drove from Massapequa, L.I. to the Buddhist temple Saturday carrying bags of clothes, baby food and dolls. Or why Carmen Rodriguez came from Maspeth bearing rice, cookies and bottled water.It was why New Yorkers ranging from the Clintons — who came Friday — and borough politicians to suburban housewives and children clutching floral bouquets migrated all week long to the donation drive and prayer service.It was why Christian leader Michael Camario sat with Hindu priests and Buddhist monks and why scores of city residents took their shoes off to hear the Eastern chants followed by the Lord's Prayer.”Because I had to,” Fisher said. The Queens woman was hesitant at first to give her name because she did not want to be singled out.One shipment of hospital supplies, water purification tablets, tents, toiletries, flashlights and boxes of Capri Sun fruit juice was sent Friday by ship in a 40-foot crate to Sri Lanka. Another left Tuesday.Suwarna Rambukpota, who organized the drive, said she was having trouble locating enough boxes to pack with or trucks to haul them away. “It's so sad and at the same time we're so happy for all the help,” she said. When Rambukpota ran out of duct tape, a nearby Sears gave her a supply for free.”But money is No. 1,” she said. As of Tuesday, the temple had raised more than $80,000 since the disaster.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

More from Around New York