Cantor Gustavo and four of our Hebrew school students were visibly shaken when they returned to our synagogue late Thursday afternoon.
Earlier that day, they had left CTI with a van full of clothing donated by congregants during the last few days, destined for a shelter in Oceanside. There is a synagogue there where eighty percent of congregants lost everything in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Curbs of many streets are packed with the entire contents of some homes damaged beyond repair. Men and women sit in their cars in the evenings with flashlights ensuring that their remaining possessions are not looted.
This is the reality of Hurricane Sandy, which has reminded us again how fortunate we are to be guests of this planet, and how vulnerable we truly are.
Indeed, these have been taxing times here in Glen Cove and the area. No one has been spared from the impact of power and heat interruptions. Shortages of gasoline and other essentials have taxed our patience.
Our family, like many of you, wake up cold and in less than perfect spirits.
And there is a slight sense of tension. On one hand, our current condition is challenging. No one likes being without a daily shower. It's getting cold. Plants are wilting. The constant darkness is exasperating.
Yet we need to count our blessings.
In areas of Far Rockaway there are no streets. Cantor Gustavo and the children yesterday saw men and women, once residents of beautiful homes, now spiritually broken. They have no clothing. They are reliant on others for food. It is also humiliating for some seniors to publicly be requesting "incontinence briefs." And that's only the beginning.
In this week's Torah reading, Chayei Sarah, we are introduced to Rebecca, the biblical character who above all exudes compassion.
When Eliezer, comes looking for a bride for Isaac, Abraham's son, Rebecca comes to the well, and not only offers Eliezer water, but also ensures that his entire fleet of camels is watered as well. And she initiated that act of kindness.
Indeed, Rebecca's compassion lies at the core of Judaism. She is one of Judaism's foremothers, who reminds us that in times of thirst, it is not just important to provide a few sips, but rather to completely quench.
We are after all, based on the example of Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca and those who followed, a people of hospitality and compassion - no questions asked. And we too must initiate.
We stand today in conditions which are not significantly different. Many of our neighbors in Long Island are cold, hungry, homeless and most importantly bleeding within.
It behooves us to ask, "How can we help."
Although as Pirkei Avot, our collection of wise sayings reminds us, while we cannot fully heal the world, we have a responsibility to do our part, and perhaps save one soul at a time.
As well, current conditions force us to think "what is the main purpose of synagogues, churches and mosques anyway?" Our synagogue houses a basement full of clothing and other items which have been earmarked for our Tag Sale, which due to Hurricane Sandy has been cancelled from this weekend to December 2.
But maybe the delay of the Tag Sale, although disappointing, provides us with a sacred opportunity.
On Sunday, we will begin bagging some of our donated items, to assist those in need in our community, and particularly on the south shore.
We think this is more important than letting these items sit for a month. Although we will lose some revenue at the Tag Sale, I think you will agree that we are here as a sacred community to support others.
Therefore, we will ask three things.
First, whether you are a member of our congregation -- Jewish or not - please join us Sunday morning at 10:30 am as we begin to sort, bag and deliver clothing to the those in need. We will be donating these items to both secular and religious based shelters.
Second, if you are so moved, please donate to the CTI Rabbi's Discretionary Fund so that we can provide assistance to those who may have unique needs. Also, please donate clothing and other items which may be sitting in your closets.
Finally, we have received word of even worse devastation in Staten Island. Residents there, some related to congregants, are in need of gift cards from Target stores in order to purchase various essentials. You can purchase these at any local grocery or pharmacy, or you can donate funds to the discretionary fund and we will make these purchases for you.
We have indeed endured difficult times here on the North Shore, but what makes us unique as a faith community is our ability even in times of hardship to look at those who face even worse troubles.
Lets us band together, in spite of our challenges, and count our blessings.
Let us be like Rebecca, who not only gave, but gave with a full and concerned heart..
Please help us as we unite as a community. However chilled, grumpy, unshaven, imperfect we may feel, we are the most fortunate people on this earth. We are alive and well.
Let us recognize that light which surrounds us, and share that light with those battling the shadows of darkness.
For indeed, in spite of everything, we still have much to be grateful for.
"This is the day that God has made, let us celebrate and rejoice in it." Psalm 118.
Shabbat Shalom, V'kol tuv.
-Rabbi Irwin Huberman