Hurricane Sandy News and the Jews

sefer torah hurricane sandy

Sifrei Torah are spread out to dry in the Mazel Day School in Brighton Beach, NY, after the Aron Kodesh was immersed in flood waters.

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:

The Worst:

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.

israel aide hurricane sandy

Plane loads of aid bound for the New York are loaded up in Israel.

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 Best:

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!

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  1. says

    Thanks so much for your clear-headed comments, Naomi. I, too, have been somewhat stunned by the insensitivity of some reactions. Any insinuation of fault on behalf of a person or a people-group is only an admission of helplessness. I try to remember that, but it’s hard. None of us can truly fathom the “cause” of natural disasters of any magnitude. Not now, and not ever.

  2. Howard Chusid says

    This was just sent to me:
    Dear Friend,
    I just came back from Yeshiva Shar Yoshuv. A couple of friends and I decided to take the day and help people in Far Rockaway clean out after the flood. We called Achiezer this morning and they said come to Shar Yoshuv and we will send you out. When we got to Shar Yoshuv the sight was unbelievable. At the entrance to the campus was a truck accepting Shaimos. In front of the main entrance to the building was a truck accepting family’s laundry to be washed. The dining room was set up to serve lunch and supper. Supper was starting at 3:30 P.M. so people could get home before dark. The gym was set up with racks of cloths for men, women and children. Teams were being sent out to pump water out of people’s homes. We came to the volunteer station and we were asked to help people unload Shaimos from their cars into a big truck. The line of cars coming to drop off ruined Seforim was nonstop. People were pulling up with cars, minivans and even a pickup truck loaded with full libraries of seforim. I with my own eyes saw thousands of Seforim that were ruined. I spoke to a woman who asked if we could send help over to her house to bag up her ruined Seforim. She came with a stroller with bags full of dirty laundry, together with her children so they could eat lunch. She said that she came on foot because she was afraid to use her car and run out of gas. She said that she just had no energy left to deal with the ruined Seforim. What I experienced was just dealing with the Seforim that people lost. I did not see their dark cold homes; some still will many feet of water in them, others full of water damaged possessions. It was clear that many regular people are in need of lots of help. Boruch Hashem here in Kew Gardens Hills things are fine, but a few short miles away things really are not. We have to do what we can to help our brothers literally dig out of this. If you have time to volunteer call Achiezer at 516-791-4444. If you can make a donation to the Hurricane Relief Fund you can do so at In the Zechus of the unbelievable Chesed going on may all of Acheinu Bais Yisroel have yeshuos bekarov.
    Yours Truly,
    Chaim Eli Welcher

  3. Israeli from America says

    I’m sorry, I see things differently. I moved to Israel because Hashem said to. Both Torah and the prophets said the exile would end one day and all Jews should return to Israel, our home. The prophets said G-d would send fishers first and then hunters. Sandy occurred for many reasons, but the fact is that nothing happens to us without G-d’s allowance. If we lose everything, it would seem a good time to make aliyah because it allows a new start. Things are going to get worse in the diaspora when the hunters come. so it really can be seen as the compassionate response to suggest making aliyah at this time. It might be the tough love position, but only time will tell if it’s the correct one. I say come home.

    • says

      Dear Israeli from America,
      I wouldn’t be surprised if some Sandy victims did ultimately decide to make Aliya. I’m only saying that when people are reeling in shock from a natural disaster is not the time to suggest they make a major life change, nor imply that they brought it upon themselves.

      • Israeli from America says

        Dear Naomi,
        I can’t put myself in the shoes of someone who lost all of their belongings in a natural disaster, but in my life I’ve indeed experienced heart-wrenching loss. I’m not suggesting that people should be told they brought this on themselves or that G-d took everything away so they’d make aliyah. I’m only saying that suggesting in a sensitive way at a sensitive time, that one alternative open to them is to make aliyah. When we left the US we left most of our belongings behind. There was a huge pile on one side of our driveway for the Goodwill, and another huge pile for the garbage collection. We left behind our car as well, because our whole world had to fit in a 20 foot container. There was actually a feeling of great freedom mixed with some sadness at leaving so much behind, but we had to downsize because we were moving to an apartment a fraction the size of our roomy house. We’ve been in Israel several years and are still living without a car, with minimal appliances, no TV, a tiny yard, but we wouldn’t go back for anything. The spiritual benefits and the joy of living amongst all kinds of Jews is beyond our expectations. So if people were forced to have to start all over again in building up a home & all that entails, it makes sense to at least consider aliyah as one alternative.

  4. says

    Hi, Naomi. I would like to weigh in on this one. Every Jew has different thoughts going through their mind whenever there is disaster, and Sandy certainly has evoked many reactions. I have heard different things from different people. It would be a mistake to not learn lessons from this tragedy. Many stories are circulating about people who lost palatial homes, and while it is certainly not anyone’s place to “dance on someone else’s grave,” there is certainly a collective lesson here. People are also associating Sandy with the parasha of Vayera when Sodom was destroyed. It is forbidden to compare our Holy Jewish brethren to the people of Sodom, but we can focus on what Sodom did or did not do and take lessons from it. Every parsha contains lessons and every incident that occurs in our lives contains within a lesson to teach us. Whether it‘s becoming a better person, taking a hard look at our comfortable (until recently) state in the Diaspora and more, every individual should be taking stock for him or herself and asking themselves, “what does HaShem want from me?”
    One of the common statements regarding the Holocaust was “the Rabbis said to stay, so how could people disobey?” Perhaps this was true in certain times and in certain locations, but does that mean that the same principles apply now? Perhaps there is a fear that if one asks a Rav if he should leave the diaspora that the Rav will respond emphatically to stay in the Diaspora? A possible synthesis of those who predict doom and those who are more passive would be to create an awareness that we should start contemplating moving (back) to Eretz Yisroel, and then the Rabbonim will take people more seriously when they c come to ask. In the meantime, let’s all daven for our brethren who have been harmed, dislocated, and suffered, and may the entire Jewish People know of no more suffering, and we should merit the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

  5. says

    “The Jewish response to tragedy is not judgment and it’s not reading G-d’s mind – it’s compassion. ”

    This is a fantastic quote and worth the whole article.

  6. Miriam says

    “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.”
    I don’t disagree that the Jewish response to tragedy is compassion. But I don’t think it is just compassion. The Torah response is also to examine our deeds – and the closer one is to the tragedy, the more someone has to feel it is directed at them. In the tochacha (the rebuke) in the Torah we are warned not to respond ‘b’keri’ = to say something was a mikre – a coincidence. Everything is from Hashem and everything has a reason. Of course there are no prophets today, so no one knows why something happened, but we should try and think why it did, drawing on Torah sources.
    I don’t see why the fact that Jews built beautiful homes in America and they were destroyed might not mean Hashem is sending them a message to leave and come to Eretz Yisrael.
    But, of course, that is no s’tira (contradiction) to compassion and helping our fellow Jews.

    • says

      Thanks for your insight Miriam.
      I totally agree that everything G-d does, is for a reason, and massive natural disaster is certainly no exception.
      There is definitely a message and a lesson in this for each of us who have been touched by Sandy, obviously including people who have lost their homes.
      However, I don’t think it’s sensitive to tell this to people who are in crisis. There are several stages of processing that victims move through in coming to terms with this kind of life-changing tragedy: Shock, denial, sadness, etc. before they reach acceptance. When they are in these early stages, the only constructive response is offers of sympathy and support.
      People who watched their lives, their savings and all their plans swept away by Sandy are undoubtedly in a state of shock and trauma right now. I don’t recommend that anyone in this state make life-changing decisions. When the time comes, they will examine the message for themselves, perhaps with the help and advice of those they know and trust they will determine that Aliyah is right for them.
      Personally, it is not my style to encourage others to make aliyah at any time. Aliyah is such a huge decision, it needs to be made with the right attitude, at the right time and for the right reasons. It requires research and planning, and deep personal commitment.
      And let me end by saying that I love living in Israel and I feel so blessed that I moved here!

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