INSPIRING WORDS BY RABBI HERSHEL BILLET
In Jewish tradition we view calamity and catastrophe from multiple perspectives. From all points of view the anniversary of such events is a time for reflection. Our synagogue, our members, and many other people were devastated by Super Storm Sandy. Today, on the first anniversary of the hurricane, I share with you some reflections.
First, when one is hit by devastation, a Jew instinctively does a ‘cheshbon hanefesh’, a religious audit. One response is that G-d is righteous and I have sinned. In the words of Pharaoh, “Hashem hatzadik ve’ani ve’ami ha’re’sha’im”. Or if you will, in the words of our Mussaf liturgy, “mipnai chata’ainu galinu mai’artzainu”, “because of our sins we were exiled from our land”. Certainly, in the greater scheme of things it is important that as religious Jews we be self-critical in the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event. However, I find it difficult to point to specific communal or individual sins that would justify G-d’s wrath on so many good people. So I choose to be silent and simply say that “nistarim darkai HASHEM”, G-d’s ways are hidden.
At the same time, one cannot help but reflect on how desperately we need G-d. Human vulnerability was highlighted by Sandy. We live in the most powerful and modern country in the world. Yet we were helpless to prevent Sandy’s devastation. A lesson in humility is always appropriate to put us in our appropriate place. Let us not forget that we need Him to watch over us.
This leads to my next point. G-d did watch over our community. There were no serious injuries and no deaths. The wrath of Sandy in our community was taken out on “wood and stones”; not on people. We must be grateful. It could have been much worse. And indeed, in other parts of our region it was much worse. We were truly fortunate, as difficult as that is to say.
We can take much inspiration from the courageous and gritty response of those impacted by Sandy. They “girded their loins”, assessed the damage and went about restoring their homes, their synagogues and schools, and repairing their damaged lives. All was done with a good determined spirit. Many of us felt like we hit a low point in our lives after Sandy, and yet we pulled ourselves together. People came to Shul, went to work, and rebuilt. Those of us who were less affected were seen at the home of those who were more affected, helping with the daunting clean-up. We came together as a community. We loved and supported one another.
There were the many people in our community and outside of it who volunteered services, goods, and money to help people and institutions devastated by Sandy. Our Shul raised more than a million dollars to help our own members, to help our Shul, and to help the greater community through the CAF (Community Assistance Fund) managed by the incredible local organization Achiezer. Achiezer proved that there is more that unites our greater community than divides us. Jewish communities all over the country offered funds and all kinds of assistance. There were individuals who donated millions of dollars to help people who had no flood insurance or who received little from their insurance company. It felt so good to be a member of the greater caring Jewish community.
A year later, we must also recognize that many are still not recovered, to differing degrees. We pray that everyone be able to finish fixing their homes and recovering their lives as soon as possible! And we should continue to assist one another with the strength of spirit we had in the storm’s immediate aftermath.
In Jewish tradition when we grieve, we remember the old good world that has been destroyed. That intensifies our mourning. Hence on the Ninth of Av Jerusalem remembers when the Temple stood in all of its glory and cries when it sees foxes trespassing on the ruins of the Holy of Holies. We too remember our pre-Sandy lives and miss what was taken from us and feel saddened by the ways in which we can never get some of those things back or fully be the way we were before. But, we do not stop there. Rabbi Akiva’s perspective is that when there are ruins there must be rebuilding. We are strengthened – not weakened – when we are called to rebuild.
In the elegy ‘Aish Tukad Be’kirbi’ that we say on Tisha B’Av we contrast the joy of the exodus from Egypt with the sadness of the exile from Jerusalem. But we conclude with the glory of our return to Jerusalem. In our time the establishment of Israel is hopefully the first step in the process of us realizing our dreams as a nation. And in our own community – in our own little corner of the Jewish nation, we are also experiencing a redemption. our recovery from Sandy after a difficult year reminds us that there is a bright and hopeful future and assures us of the triumph of the human spirit ‘b’ezrat Hashem’ in the face of all adversity.
May we always continue to grow as a community, to go michayil el chayil, and to, be’zrat Hashem, no longer be faced with such challenges.
on behalf of Rabbi Hershel Billet
The Oisvorfer Ruv
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