Hurricane Sandy is big news.
It’s so huge that it’s still the main thing on the news, one week on. In fact, it feels kind of wrong to be talking about anything else on this blog, while so many of my readers are struggling to get back on their feet.
Business and marketing in the Jewish world can wait! Let’s talk about the Jewish response to Sandy online.
Sandy: Forecasted Yet Unexpected
The weather reports gave was fair warning that this storm would be intense, but it seems that no one was really prepared for what it meant.
But slowly the results of the storm, which struck one of the world’s largest Jewish communities with devastating impact, is beginning to be understood. I don’t think most of us really comprehend it even now. This is despite the technological innovations that make real-time mass communication so easy. Perhaps it’s just too big, too historic and too unexpected to get our heads around.
I live in Israel and I’m from Australia, so I only know New York from a few visits and through the many friends I have there. What really began to drive the devastating impact home for me, was this collection of images.
Notwithstanding the lag in reality sinking in, Sandy’s reporting was “crowd-sourced” in a way that was never possible before. One can only imagine what our image of the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, would have been like if people had iPhones and Facebook in those “distant” days. Perhaps we’re better off not seeing what they would have shared.
But finally we’ve all understood that this is the biggest news story of the year. Hopefully we won’t have any stories this big for a while. Because stories this huge are usually really bad news.
And only a month ago we were in shul asking G-d, “Who by fire, and Who by water.”
Here is the best and worst of the Jewish response to the largest natural disaster to befall our people in recent memory:
Have you seen these comments?: “If your house is destroyed, maybe you should come live in Israel.” Or worse: “Maybe G-d is trying to tell you all that you should do teshuva, or be living in Israel, rather than America.”
This kind of comment, seen in reaction to many reports about Sandy’s destructive impact, is really insensitive, to say the least.
Telling someone who just lost their home to a natural disaster yesterday that they should move to Israel is like paying a shiva call to a grieving widow and saying: “Don’t worry, I know an even better guy you can marry.”
“You shouldn’t have married that guy in the first place!”
Perhaps former Americans living in Israel feel relieved that the bad news is coming from the other side of the Atlantic for once, and this causes them to forget their manners. So here is a friendly reminder: we need to give the survivors of this trauma time to process this experience and then let them draw their own conclusions about whatever messages G-d is sending them.
The Jewish response to tragedy is not judgment and it’s not reading G-d’s mind – it’s compassion. Specifically, it’s acting on that compassion through chessed.
On that note: Kol HaKavod to those Israeli residents and organizations that are sending aid to the disaster zone. It’s hard to imagine that this will put a dent in the problem, but the mere fact that we actively show our concern is important, both for us and for the recipients of our aid.
The acts of kindness, large and small, that this disaster has inspired, are really moving to me, even from afar. I think this kind of overwhelming disaster, which reduces people to their basic needs for food, shelter and warmth, helps us focus on what we have in common with others, rather than that which divides us.
Maybe that’s the natural reaction when you come face-to-face with an Act of G-d.
At this moment, many Jewish organizations are distributing free meals to families without power and on Shabbos thousands of Jews temporarily displaced from their homes were hosted in shuls around the East.
Many people have been privileged to do simple acts of kindness, such as providing diapers or letting someone have a hot shower at their house. It’s these individual acts, usually unseen and rarely acknowledged, that give us hope for humanity.
Wishing a safe and speedy recovery and rebuilding process to readers who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy!