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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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A Personal Account Of Hurricane Sandy

Dear Rachel,

Hard to believe that it’s now been over three months since I returned from Israel and experienced the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which turned my life upside down. I still get very emotional when I think of it all.

To go back a little, I had suffered a freak accident at work at the beginning of last summer that necessitated my missing work for about three months. Though major surgery was prescribed, I instead chose a three times weekly physical therapy regimen, supplemented by a six day a week special workout on the beach in my community. Little did I dream that in a few short weeks this same water would flow into my house and cause havoc and ruin.

In September I returned to work and finalized my plans to travel to Israel after the holidays. In October as I was getting ready to leave, I found myself wondering what would greet me upon my return; the last time I had gone, I came home to find part of my ceiling caved in due to a storm. When I heard about the hurricane while in Israel, I was overcome with worry but then reassured myself that only the basement was likely to suffer damage.

Upon my arrival home in early November, I could hardly believe my eyes as the taxi driver drove through my neighborhood. It looked like a war zone. When I opened the door to my house I reached for the light switch, but there was no electricity. As I walked in, I stepped into water. I waded through my rooms and found Shabbos candles to illuminate the house. The damage was extensive; there was so much destruction and loss. And there was no way I could live in my house. In fact, it would be months before I’d be able to return. I have also had to navigate governmental bureaucracy on my own.

One of the things I keep thinking about is how only a few weeks earlier I prayed the Nesaneh Tokef prayer… who will live and who will die. Had I remained in my house and not gone to Israel, would I be alive today? My basement was submerged in eight feet of water and all my appliances were turned upside down. My home also sustained an electrical fire. Although I lost most of my furniture, all of my papers and so many other items, I am truly grateful to Hashem for watching over me and keeping me safe and alive.

However, these past few months have also shown me that many members of Klal Yisrael, especially in my community, are lacking in middos and need to be more focused on the needs of others. And that is really why I am writing this letter.

Two days after I arrived home, I received a call from a friend who wanted to know how much insurance money I would be getting. When I didn’t answer her question, she told me that the rabbis are saying “Hashem is punishing you.” I terminated the conversation. Instead of being offered words of chizuk, I was subjected to words that were hurtful.

I looked around my empty house and felt my faith being tested. It is this woman who is to be pitied, I thought. She sits comfortably in her home with her husband at her side, with the lights and heat on — and never thought to invite me over for a meal or a hot drink. As others became aware of how bad my situation was, I honestly expected an invitation for Shabbos, but no one offered.

I have lived in this community for the better part of my life, yet I find that everyone is just involved in their own things. On the other hand, I have found myself on the receiving end of acts of kindness from the non-Jews at my workplace. And an Israeli designer whom I had been buying clothing from over the years sent me a package of clothing a few days after hearing about my tremendous loss. These are people I never expected anything from.

While I find it remarkable that the same water that healed me this past summer destroyed my house, I thank G-d that my emunah is strong and I continue to trust in Him. My prayer is that communities learn the art of caring for one another and to look around for that person who is alone and might be in need. May we be spared such tragedies and may Hashem heal us and send Moshiach speedily in our time.

Vivian

Dear Vivian,

I am truly sorry to read of your tribulations, compounded by the insensitivity of others. This being so atypical of the Jewish heart and soul [see Chronicles of Nov. 23 & Dec. 7, ’12], I can only surmise that by the time you came home from Israel, residents of the devastated areas and surrounding neighborhoods were either mired in their own anguish and grief at their losses or were overtaxed physically and emotionally by the sudden and massive recovery undertakings.

Among the remarkable resources and organized efforts on behalf of victims of the storm, Chabad seemed to take center stage. I trust you’ve been in contact with your local Chabad synagogue’s personnel who would have no doubt been able to offer you invaluable assistance in your time of need.

As for thoughtless remarks and reactions, there are times when even the well-meaning individual somehow manages to be tactless. Your friend who talked of divine “punishment” certainly did not mean to imply anything personal. No human being (at least not in our time) can pinpoint a cause for such a disaster, but we do know that a calamity of this magnitude moves us all to search our hearts and deeds and to cry out to Hashem for His mercy and benevolence.

Hopefully, your message will not be lost on the people who need to hear it most. May you experience a quick, thorough and smooth recovery.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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