As stated in one of our last posts about the hurricane, we are familiar with what the devastation of hurricanes looks like in the South. But the recent photographs of flooded cities coming out of New York and New Jersey during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy remind me of other stunning photos captured during a massive flood in this region that goes back further than Katrina or Camille.
These images are from a collection of photos and documents that once belonged to Marshall Levitt of Greenwood, MS. They depict the Flood of 1927, a devastating flood on April 21st , caused by a weather system that brought huge amounts of rain to the Upper Mississippi River Region and resulted in the levees breaking. It caused water to cover nearly one million acres of the Mississippi Delta, ten feet deep in ten days, and covered much of the area for months.
While Greenville, MS infamously suffered the worst of the flood, the expansive impact of the water can be seen in these photos which were taken over 50 miles away to the east of the river in Greenwood, MS.
At the time, The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the nation’s greatest natural disaster, affecting an estimated population of 185,495. Clearly, the scope of Hurricane Sandy’s damage is much larger. I hope for my friends and family in the Northeast that years from now, after a successful recovery, the photos captured from this storm will seem just as unbelievable as these from Greenwood do today.
In the South, we’re pretty familiar with hurricanes. Katrina, Isaac, Camille … we’re used to pretty regular encounters with powerful and potentially devastating storms. All this week, all of us down here have been watching the images on-screen, scrolling through the Facebook posts, and frequently checking in with our friends and families up North.
If there’s one silver lining around the awful storm clouds of a monster like Hurricane Sandy, it’s always the tremendous sense of community and human decency that are unleashed by these disasters. It brings to mind the word klal – “community.”
There will never be a storm mightier than Hurricane Klal – the swirling, powerful, whirlwind of communal compassion.
If you’re looking for a way to join in the effort, to help and to support all of our fellow citizens impacted by Hurricane Sandy, here are some ways that you can get involved, near or far away from where this storm struck:
- You can contribute online to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund established by UJA New York
- You can also give online to the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund
- You can give to the Red Cross, which is serving the entire impacted area
- You can give to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City
- If you are in New York, you can donate blood, help clean up the city, or contact your congregation, JCC, or other communal agency to see where the current most urgent needs may be
Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful Shabbat, all along the Eastern seaboard and all over the world. Be safe, be well, and shalom, y’all.
I had been out of town for a few days. When I returned to the ISJL office in Jackson, I was greeted by a co-worker who jokingly said, “Oh, you returned just in time for Itzik (an endearing nickname often used in reference to someone with the name Isaac)!”
Now that I, along with many others in the Deep South, have been visited by Hurricane Isaac, I thought I’d look at the name of this devastating storm.
The story of the birth of Isaac, which is also seasonally appropriate thanks to its Rosh Hashanah connection, is detailed in Genesis. The root of the word Isaac means laughter. Sara, Isaac’s mother, named her son Isaac and explained “God has given me laughter. All who hear will laugh with me.” Sara predicted that when anyone heard about her giving birth at the age of 90, the response would be laughter.
A child’s name inspired by laughter is one thing. A hurricane, though, is no laughing matter. But the laughter that Sara anticipated was associated with wonder. Hurricanes truly provoke wonder.
The Biblical Isaac, however, winds up representing more than laughter and wonder. Isaac represents a test of faith, in the story of the Akedah, or “binding of Isaac,” the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith in God. Kierkegaard, a 19th century philosopher, wrote “Fear and Trembling,” which focuses on this story. As he presents various approaches to God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his son, Kierkegaard makes a distinction between resignation and faith. A resigned Abraham would acknowledge that killing his son is unethical. However, he prepares to sacrifice his son, because God’s command supersedes ethical obligations. That demonstrates faith, Kierkegaard argues: trusting God to avoid committing an unethical act. A faithful Abraham is confident that the telos (end purpose/final goal) of God’s command is ethical. He has faith in God’s ethics, and is confident that the outcome will be ethical. With that faith, he prepares to kill his son.
For centuries, the story of the Akedah has served as the primary illustration of faith in God. However, it can also serve as a basis upon which we can explore our faith in humanity. Kierkegaard’s analysis of the story of Isaac forces us to consider the end goal of the Akedah. A similar analysis can apply to service. There are times when we engage in service because we feel resigned to an obligation namely, to do good in our world. Sometimes, the end goal of our service, however, is not met. Service can have unintended consequences. We may provide a food pantry with loads of canned foods, only to find out that they don’t have a can opener.
A food pantry without a can opener is a simplified but not far-flung example of service that fails to meet the end goal. If we do not first assess needs, our end goal is less likely to be met. “Feeding the hungry” is a noble goal – but if we give someone a can of food without any way to access the food, he or she will remain hungry. Service that is motivated by resignation to a sense of obligation is most likely to come short of our final goals.
However, there is a second approach to service that shares the characteristics of faith. This approach is built upon a relationship of trust. In that relationship, Abraham trusts God to lead him to the end goal of an ethical outcome. Similarly, we can approach service with an end goal that is front and center to our work. We can also build relationships with the people we seek to assist so that together we can learn how to best go about actualizing that goal. With this approach, the assumption is that the people who we seek to assist are experts in how we can reach the desired outcome. We need help to provide help. At a minimum, we ought to ask for input, but there are times when it may not be a bad idea to follow the people we seek to help and who have the deepest understsanding of their needs and have spent hours of their time contemplating and working toward the end goals.
Itzik the storm was an unwelcome guest, however, his impact provides an opportunity to reflect on the relationships we have with others, particularly individuals who are experiencing hard times. Hurricane Isaac destroyed homes, flooded cities, threw peoples’ lives into chaos, and has created an opportunity for us to step in and offer comfort and assistance. In addressing this disaster and disasters of all kind associated with the human experience, let’s reflect on our end goals and the relationships we seek to honor and respect.
How have you been helping people impacted by Hurricane Isaac? Feel free to check out the work of Nechama-Jewish Response to Disaster.