Posts Tagged 'Sandy'

Climate Proof

In Bo, this week’s Torah portion, before the 10th plague and Israelite exodus from Egypt we read about the Korban Pesach. There we read:

3 Speak to the entire congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household; 4 and if the household be too little for a lamb, then he and his next-door-neighbor shall take one according to the number of the souls; according to every man’s eating you shall make your count for the lamb. ( Exodus 12: 3-4)

Why did they do this ritual at this moment? The sacrifice has come to be understood as the yearly commemoration of our emergency exodus from Egypt, but this clearly happened before we left.

On one level it can be interpreted as an act of defiance and commitment. There are those who understood that the Egyptians saw the lamb as a deity. Killing the image of the Egyptian God would be a point of no return. This action spoke of the Israelite commitment to leave. On another level this helps us understand the power of ritual itself. The Korban Pesach is not a memory of our leaving, but rather what we did before we left.  Where the Matzah speaks of our not being ready to leave, this sacrifice speaks of our preparation for leaving. It forced them to organize themselves in eating units.

In a recent article in the New Yorker Eric Klinenberg wrote about how after Hurricane Sandy governments are working on ‘climate proofing’ cities are upgrading ‘lifeline systems’.  Some of the effort are high-tech (power, transit) and some lower intensity, such as organizing communities so that residents know which of their neighbors are vulnerable and how to assist them. In light of this article, it seems that this first Korban Pesach was low intensity means of organizing the community in preparation for their emergency exit from Egypt.

UJA Federation in partnership with many local synagogues has done amazing work in responding to Sandy, but this week I have to ask are we organized enough for the next emergency. Is our community ‘climate proof’?

Read more:

UJA Federation page about responses to Sandy @
http://www.ujafedny.org/connect-to-recovery/
Provide help for those in need by donating to UJA-Federation of NY’s Hurricane Relief Fund @ https://www.ujafedny.org/hurricane-sandy-relief-fund
Learn about volunteer opportunities to help people devastated by Hurricane Sandy @ http://www.ujafedny.org/hurricane-sandy-volunteer-opportunities
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Restoring, Rebuilding,and Reconnecting

Recently I found myself thinking about the opening lines of Lamentations. There we read:
1 How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! 2 She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. ( Lamentations 1:1-2)
This is a vivid depiction of Jerusalem sitting in isolation with no one to comfort her. I know it is not Tisha B’Av. So, why am reading Lamentations?
Well I clearly have destruction on my mind. We have learned about the destruction of Hurricane Sandy from watching or reading the news media, talking to friends or relatives who have been effected, or from personal experience. In addition to all of this I have seen this unfold from the perspective of the synagogues.  My wife, Cantor Adina Frydman, is the head of  SYNERGY: UJA-Federation and Synagogues Together. She has been doing amazing work since the Hurricane working with synagogues. To ones that were not effected by the storm, synagogues like our own have served as amazing community centers giving relief and solace to community members. One exemplar of this has been Temple Beth Elohim in Park Slope which has been doing amazing relief work.In addition to this, there are around 50 synagogues which have been severely damaged or destroyed.
Last week Adina went to visit a bunch of these synagogues. She returned to share with me the horrible images. Here is a picture of one synagogue that was trying to dry out six Sifrei Torah  after a 14 foot wake went through their sanctuary.

The first thing she said to me when she got home was, “There really aught to be a blessing you can say for this.” And  there is one. It is the same blessing that you say when you hear that someone has died. We say, ” Baruch Dayan Emet -Blessed be the Judge of truth”.

And while Sandy has been a story laden with destruction, it has also been one of communities and the community as a whole coming together to rebuild. So what is the blessing we hope to say when we see a rebuilt synagogue? In the Talmud we read:

Our Rabbis taught: On seeing the houses of Israel, when inhabited one says: Blessed be God maziv gevul almana- who sets the boundary of the widow; when uninhabited, Blessed be the judge of truth. ( Berachot 58B)
What widow are we talking about? The widow from Lamentations is  the Temple and Jerusalem. And we are supposed to see our synagogue as a Mikdash Me’at– a small Temple. As Rashi explains it is written “as a widow”, not  a real widow, but as a woman whose husband’s has left her but intends to come back. When we see it restored we see that the long-lost husband has finally returned. We have a lot of urgent needs to meet. Eventually we will help these synagogues be rebuilt. We all need to do our part. One way is to contribute to UJA Federation of New York.
May we all be blessed to be restored, rebuilt, and reconnected with the ones we love.

Afraid of the Dark

Like many other people in the Tri-State area my family has had a tough week with Hurricane Sandy. We are thankful that we are all healthy and that we did not have any significant damage from the storm. Recently we got our power back and were able to return to our home and just in time for the most recent snow storm. There are many people who are displaced or living in the cold without power. And there are some who have sustained serious damages to their homes. In the moment it was hard to reflect on the experience.

This past Shabbat I went to California and got out of the grips of Sandy. While I hated leaving my family I had to go for work. I participated in a wonderful Shabbaton with a group of Assistant Camp directors. During my trip back I had the pleasure of trading stories about our children with Aaron Cantor the Associate Director for Camp Seneca Lake. There is one sweet story that he shared with me that helped me process part of my experience of Sandy.

As he explained, this past year he took his 5 year-old daughter Lily to synagogue for Yom Kipper services. When they were there Aaron pointed out the Ner Tamid in front of the ark. He explained to her that there is always a light on near the Torah.  Lily replied, “Is the Torah scared of the dark, is it a night-light?”

What a great story? I have been taught that the synagogue is a small temple, so this ever-burning light is there just as a fire burned in the Tabernacle. As we read:

And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring you pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. In the tabernacle of the congregation without the veil, which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the Lord: it shall be a statute for ever unto their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.( Exodus 27:20-21)

But what is the value of having this ever-burning light? Lily’s story taught me a great lesson. Lily has an amazing sense of empathy. The Torah needed a night-light, because we all need a night-light. We are all afraid of the dark and not just little kids. The idea is that the community should always have a night-light whether in the Tabernacle of a synagogue.

Sandy has taught me a number of things. Sandy reminded me the value of having friends and a community. We need to invest in those relationships in the good times so that they are in place for the hard times. We need to support community institutions with our time, talent, wisdom, and money. I am also reminded that despite the advancement of technology in our civilization, we still live and die at the whim of nature. Control is just an illusion.  And Lily’s story taught be that being in the dark, whether without power, information, friends, or community, is just plain scary. So yes, we all need a night-light. In many respects, empathy is the light of the Torah itself.


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