As of this writing, fully six days after Hurricane Sandy crashed into the northeastern United States, some 107 people were known to have been killed by the freakishly massive force of the storm. More than two million homes and businesses were still without power. Some 8.5 million homes and businesses were without power after the storm passed last Tuesday.
Seven states – Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and West Virginia – suffered the harshest blows of Sandy’s severe punishment. According to CBS News, hurricane-related deaths were reported in five additional states, including Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia and even Ohio.
The headlines last week were as shocking as some of the images that accompanied them. Typical of the headlines were “Sandy devastates Staten Island” or “Superstorm slams Jersey shore.”
Some homes and some entire communities that had formerly hugged the shoreline were lifted up, blown over or tossed away like some inconvenient fleck of dirt. Human beings and the lives they had built stood in the way of the shearing winds and giant waves of water cutting a path toward an indistinct ultimate place of dissipation.
After the storm, thousands of individuals, their strength of will re-summoned, as their children stood at their side, rummaged through the rubble of their homes, Sandy’s detritus, looking for fragments of a lifetime from which to start again.
We saw the images.
They could have been taken from any of the climate-change disaster movies produced by Hollywood in the past few years. But they were not cut and pasted from a film studio.
Nor were the images of a Third World natural disaster where water toppled spindly wooden homes or makeshift plywood huts.
Rather, they were from across the fence in our neighbour’s yard.
In the very large Jewish community of Greater New York, including New Jersey, JTA reported heartrending personal features such as “Tree felled by Sandy kills teacher, college student,”or “Deluged day school, ruined Torahs and devastated communities left in Sandy’s wake.” (See the coverage elsewhere in this edition.)
Our distance from the storm spared us its harm.
But we must not allow that distance to spare us from understanding and empathizing with the suffering of the storm’s victims.
Even the “least” damage from the storm – a lack of electrical power, for example – can be disastrous, as the cold nights of autumn have set in to the area.
A visitor last week from Toronto to one of the Jewish neighbourhoods in Baltimore told The CJN: “You really feel the devastation in New York here.”
“Many people [in Baltimore] have children, relatives or close friends who have been without power or flooded out of their homes. Many have come here to stay with family and friends.
“I have been told that many of the people who are flooded out will not be compensated by their insurance. And after as much as 10 inches of water or sewage has been sitting in your house for a week, it’s a real mess. Then there is the mould and mildew to consider.
“Shuls are collecting food, clothes, bedding, money, etc. to send to New York. A lot of Jewish families are involved. They are also sending a bus [to New York City] next week, when gas won’t be as hard to find on the highway, to bring affected families back to Baltimore and Silver Spring to stay with shul members for next Shabbat.”
We must all get involved.
And indeed Jewish communities in Canada and North America have done so. Federations in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa have established special relief funds for this purpose.
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto said last week that 100 per cent of proceeds collected for the UJA Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund will be distributed by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) as part of a North America-wide response.
We share the sentiments and echo the words of Israeli President Shimon Peres in message he sent last week to U.S. President Barack Obama: “Our hearts go out to the people of America, and I would like to extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones in this superstorm.”
But, of course, in addition to feelings of sympathy and condolences, we must act. We must help, even if in small personal measures, to abate the suffering of the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The reason we do so is because we are indeed and always will be our brothers’ keepers.