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September 2, 2005
Tragedy strikes yet again. People who have invested years, decades or even a lifetime in building homes, families, communities, schools and businesses have lost it all in a matter of hours. The waters were brutal. "The rivers have raised their voice, the rivers raise their raging waves" (Psalms 93). And the waters did not distinguish between young and old, between the wealthy and the poor, between the healthy and the ill.
How temporary and transitory can life be? You invest all of your energy in something for years and decades, and then with the tide it all vanishes, as though it never existed.
Whose heart does not ache upon hearing the sobs of a mother who knows not
where her five-year-old son is? For a woman bidding farewell to her husband before the waters sweep her away, asking him to look after their children? For a woman holding her hungry child and weeping, "We are out here like pure animals. We don't have help."
The scenes are wrenching; and the heart breaks. Why? Oh why? Why do so many
innocent people suffer? Why ask people to build a life for themselves and
their loved ones and then have them watch it destroyed before their eyes?
This is not a time for analysis, but for action. Anyone who can assist in aid, shelter and care ought to rise to the tragic occasion and stretch out his or her arm and heart to the myriad who are deprived of everything.
One scene, among many, gripped my imagination. A woman, Nicky Nickelson,
purchased some years ago a beautiful bed & breakfast in Bay S. Louis, Miss.
near the water. The B&B, a powerfully built structure, had survived previous
hurricanes, so Nicky and her six friends believed they would be safe within
it until Katrina passed.
But Katrina caught Nicky by surprise. As the tides rose over the B&B, the
entire structure, in her words, "crumbled, crumbled, just crumbled." In an
instant, the waters swept away seven people.
Luckily, a Noah's ark was awaiting them. Outside the B&B stands a thick,
deeply rooted tree, with a trunk and branches firm and solid. The tree is
not so tall as it is broad and muscular. The survivors clung to limbs of the
tree in a desperate attempt to hold on to their lives in the midst of horrific devastation. "For three hours," Nicky told CNN, "the tides were surpassing somehow>our heads, but we were hanging on to that tree. Then the water receded, and we knew that we made it."
Of the B&B, only a pile of rubble remains.
How about you?
Does this tragic-miracle story not tell us something important about our
Raging waves of uncertainty, fear, tragedy and violence fill the horizons of
our globe. The world is trembling. For the Jewish people and for the world
at large, in Israel and abroad, foundations are crumbling, lives are being
shattered and pain is spread all over.
At such a time, you must have a "tree" to cling to. A tree that will not
falter nor waver; a tree rooted in a reality that the devastating hurricanes
of life cannot destroy. This "tree" we must share with our children, our loved ones and our communities.
Abraham Reisen, one of the greatest Yiddish writers of the early 1900’s, wrote this poem in Yiddish, capturing the symbolic significance of the sukkah, the physically-fragile but spiritually-strong structure we sit in during the holiday of Sukkos. Here is his moving poem:
My succa'leh was small
not fancy at all
but it was special and dear to me
some schach I threw over it
hoping to cover it
and there I'd sit and think
The wind was a cold one
the boards they were old ones
the candles were flickering low
at times as if dying
but suddenly rising
as if they did not want to go
My sweet little daughter
was bringing me water
saw the wind and started to call
Father, she cried
don't stay there inside
the wind's too strong, the succa'leh will fall
Fear not my child
it's been quite a while
the succa'leh is still standing strong
winds have been worse, my dear
but it's over two thousand years
the succa'leh can last very long.
What is your tree? Your sukkah?
E-mail the author at: YYJ@algemeiner.com