It’s that time of year again: Hurricane season. From my years living in Florida I know well that June-November is the official season. Living now in New York, one cannot escape the constant reminder of last year’s ‘Super Storm Sandy.' The news is filled with updates, as one-by-one the Jersey Shore boardwalks reopen for the ‘season’ and shops at South Street Seaport struggle to rebuild. Recovery after the second costliest storm in U.S. history (Hurricane Katrina was the most costly) will take many years. It will be a long time until every community affected by the storm will be back on its feet.
For the individuals affected, it may take even longer. So many families have been displaced and so much housing stock has been destroyed that it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of the impact. Our friends in the Gulf Coast certainly understand, as do the families in Oklahoma after the recent devastating tornadoes.
The visual images of destruction give us a sense of the scope, but perhaps not the depth, of the destruction. I find it hard to imagine losing every possession I have. Of course, we count it as a blessing for those who survived the storm. But that does not diminish the sense of loss a person must feel after losing every ‘thing’ that made their residence a home –family heirlooms, photos, memorabilia and so much more.
As we have done in the aftermath of other major storms and wildfires, the Reform Movement stepped up to try to restore a sense of comfort to the people who lost their homes, and to let them know we are here for them. WRJ, along with URJ and Woodlands Community Temple, launched an initiative to replace the lost Judaica for the affected members of our community. Sisterhood gift shops throughout North America donated Judaica items such as Shabbat candlesticks, kiddush cups and hanukkiot. The URJ Sandy Relief fund and URJ Books and Music provided the fundamentals for a home Jewish library and gift items for children. Volunteers from Woodlands gathered and delivered the packages. It was a true movement-wide effort.
When we launch such initiatives, we don’t always know who receives the packages or if the donated items are appreciated. But recently, we heard from several people that, in fact, this simple project was a meaningful response to a huge tragedy.
In the words of Rabbi Michelle Pearlman of Monmouth Reform Temple, whose congregation received some of the donated gifts: “The Judaica contained in the packages were a message from the Reform movement that Judaism is a living, breathing, caring religious tradition.”
And one grateful woman, in the midst of her trials and woes, took the time this week to share her appreciation: “Words cannot express my gratitude for the incredible package filled with Judaica merchandise to replace what I lost in Hurricane Sandy… The water came right through my condo and destroyed everything in its wake. The building is still not habitable and will not be for another few months. It has been a very trying and sometimes very depressing time. … You cannot imagine my tears of joy when I saw all the beautiful things. We are staying in a hotel and tonight we can light Shabbat candles again!!! My appreciation to you and all those responsible for the distribution of these pkgs!!! God bless you!!!”
It’s time to prepare for another hurricane season. Even as we pray for a storm-free summer, it’s comforting to know that, come what may, our Reform family will be there for us if needed. Have a safe and joyous summer!