As I write this article, most of my congregation is without power or heat. By the time you receive it, God willing, Hurricane Sandy will be but a recent memory for most of us. At times like this, we all seek to care for our loved ones, and do what is possible for our congregation, community and region. We find ourselves seeking – seeking comfort, gasoline, information and ideas. And we bump up against the unanticipated situation or reaction. Nerves fray, and people act out. Yet always we must let our actions be driven by gemillut chesed: genuine Kindness.
The most tragic stories of the Hurricane drive home the point. There is the young mother on Staten Island who knocked on a door begging for help, and was turned away, only to lose her two young children’s lives in the flood outside. Chesed saves lives. Anger fear and selfishness destroy lives.
Here at B’nai Shalom I am proud of our community. I am proud of those who responded through chesed.
Through a network of mobile phones, portable wifi cards and laptops we were able to stay in touch with the community of “smart phones” on a daily basis. We received multiple positive letters thanking us for being in touch and affirming that no one was alone. And we used the auto-dialer to call the congregation with offers of help and meals. Personal networks reached out to the elderly and the homebound.
We held “flashlight minyanim” for a couple of days. Then, we were fortunate to get power on the evening of Day 3, so we immediately opened the doors to the shul for warmth and weekday charging all day, every day until power was restored. Volunteers kept the doors open well into the evening. We scrambled, following a tip from members, to offer a Friday night dinner from Reuben’s and we cooked for 175 to serve a Kiddush lunch for our members on Shabbat as well.
Knowing the kids were out of school, but available and cold, Rena Casser opened religious school on Shabbat and Sunday to return to normalcy early and provide families a much needed break.
Multiple members of the congregation offered spare beds, couches and in one case a paid hotel room for needy members. And certainly the vast majority of such acts of kindness went unsung and unknown to all but those directly involved. My family was among the many who slept on couches and floors in the homes of such chesed-filled families.
In the haftarah read on Shabbat Shuvah, the prophet Micah tells us (7:20) “You [God] will grant truth for Jacob and chesed for Abraham, as you swore to our forefathers in days of old.” As always, we are grateful for the gifts of both clarity and kindness in trying times. If the shul can be of service to you and yours, please do not hesitate to give us the opportunity to fulfill our mitzvah of chesed with you.
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin