On this Shabbat, we read in the third haftarah of consolation following Tisha B'Av, "Ah, unhappy, storm-tossed soul, with none to comfort you...
Come, all who are thirsty, come for water; even if you have no money, come buy food and eat: come buy food without money, wine and milk without cost." At this time of desperation for so many, we are profoundly aware of the vicissitudes of life, and our need to support one another. In the past few days, it has been heartwarming to witness our Movement operating as an extension of family, as our prayers and grief are mingled on behalf of those whose lives have been so devastated. The generous offers of support for families left homeless have been overwhelming. At the bottom of this message you will find a prayer written by Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, Director of the Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living, that can be used in your congregations this Shabbat.
As we have done far too often in recent years in the aftermath of a humanitarian crisis, the Union's staff has immediately gone into emergency response mode. Rabbis Deborah Hirsch, Director of Regions, and Marla Feldman, Director of the Commission on Social Action, will be taking the lead on our response efforts, in conjunction with David Berkman, Assistant Director of Camping. Below is a detailed description of what we currently know and our current plan. It will be several weeks until we know the full extent of the need and all lines of communication are fully restored. We appreciate your patience.
Regional directors have been reaching out to congregational leaders in the affected communities and we have set up a website for updates on news from our congregations. In addition, there is a place on the site for individuals to share information in a timely way, including notice of their whereabouts for colleagues and friends, (www.urj.org/relief
We also have established a hurricane relief phone line (212.452.6526) and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) where individuals can leave messages with specific questions or offers of support. It will be some time until we know what the needs will be, both short and long-term.
The web site will be the best vehicle to keep apprised about what the Union is doing and what the affected congregations need.
We have begun to hear from rabbis and lay leaders in the congregations most affected by the hurricane. By all accounts, the devastation is overwhelming and catastrophic; it may be weeks before people can return to their homes and congregations.
To date, more than 1000 people have made donations through the URJ Disaster Relief Fund website. The Union will distribute funds to those organizations best equipped to provide direct services for both short-term needs and long-term rebuilding. In addition, assistance will be provided to Union congregations and their members who are in need.
Paul Reichenbach and Loui Dobin have been in touch with JC Cohen and Abram Orlansky at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS. Approximately 100 people, including a doctor, remain at camp-30 from the New Orleans Jewish community and more than 70 developmentally disabled adults who took shelter there during the storm. Others who had been at camp have now left and are staying with friends and family.
The camp has been without power since Tuesday morning and it may not be restored for more than a week. A diesel powered generator was secured and began providing power to pump water for drinking and toilets. A smaller unit is being used for lighting and to operate key kitchen equipment. Loui Dobin is in the process of renting a truck so that he can deliver non-perishable food, which is beginning to run low, and other essential supplies (batteries, flashlights, etc.) from Greene Family Camp to Jacobs Camp, approximately 320 miles away.
At this point, we are assessing how best to use the Jacobs Camp facilities to assist in relief efforts. Union leaders will be discussing how to assist in the relocation and resettlement efforts that will be needed for residents of New Orleans and the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf coasts.
Our thoughts and prayers remain with the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been devastated and who have lost loved ones to this massive hurricane.
A Prayer for Shabbat Re'eh
This week's haftarah, the third haftarah of consolation following Tishah B'Av, opens:
"Ah, unhappy, storm-tossed soul, with none to comfort you: I will make garnets your building-stones, and sapphires your foundations. I will build your towers with rubies, your gates with precious stones, your border with gems..." (Isaiah 54:11-12).
And further on: "Come, all who are thirsty, come for water; even if you have no money, come buy food and eat: come buy food without money, wine and milk without cost... Open your ears and come to Me; hearken and you shall live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, [like] the true love I extended to David." (Isaiah 55:1, 3).
May these words from the prophet Isaiah speak to the hearts of those who have left the safety of their homes and communities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
We pray they find comfort through their faith in You and through the loving kindness of those emergency workers and volunteers who have come to their aid.
May those who search for missing loved ones be sustained with courage and hope. Strengthen the hands of the rescuers who have been working around the clock to save those who are stranded.
We pray that those who have lost so much have the fortitude to rebuild their lives. Let us seek out ways to help them hew new building-stones and lay new foundations. Let them know that there are many to comfort them-they do not stand alone.