Friday, September 02, 2005

An Elul reflection and the Katrina disaster

The disaster shaping up on the Gulf Coast shows both the best and worst of American society. Unfortunately, the "best" was displayed by individual actions (including private citizens and first responders), whereas the "worst" was reflected in the communal efforts of government and industry.

It doesn't have to be that way, nad, in fact, for a disaster of this scale, collective effort is the only way to avert tragedy. Unfortunately, what's been done has been done; it's too late to prevent what happened, but America needs to go forward. It's to clean up, but change attitudes about communal responsibility so that this kind of disaster won't reoccur.

Elul is the time for self-reflection, and, in addition to our personal behavior, we should reflect on the sins we committed to let this happen:

For the sin we committed by disregarding over a century of accumulated scientific and engineering knowledges about rivers, oceans, floods, and storms. We pave our cities, fill in the wetlands, build flimsy strucures right on the beach, all in pursuit of short term profits in the real-estate "game."

For the sin we committed by saving money now and paying later. The engineers knew that the levees needed repair, and yet the politicians cut the funding. Tax cuts for the rich and the invasion of Iraq were considered higher priorities than the safety of a major American city.

For the sin we committed by making inadequate evacuation plans. The authorites assumed everyone owned a private car and would use them to leave. But a large percentage of the population can't afford to own a car. The implication is clear -- the poor are not considered worth saving. Also, why were no plans made to evacuate hospitals before the storm? The people who were not able to drive out on the own are the weakest members of society, and we let them down.

For the sin we comitted by having inadequate plans for shelter. All we did was shove the people wou couldn't drive out into shelters with inadequate supplies of food and water, and no contingency plans for resupply. Where is our mighty military, who can have planes and hilicopters aloft in minutes, move supplies in hours, if needed? We knew several days in advance that the storm was coming. Why weren't the bureaucratic niceties over jurisdiction and such resolved long in advance so that the responses could be made without having to get approvals and requests from a long list of busy "leaders?"

For all these sins, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement. (but only if we actually do things to ensure that we won't commit them again.)

On a more immediate note, the United Syanagogue of Conservative Judaism has put out a notice regarding the Conservative Jewish repsonse to the flood. The Consertative shul in New Orleans is flooded, it's not clear about the congregation in Biloxi, and there are many Jewish refugees that need help. At the very least, if you live in an area that's getting refugees, providing some Shabbos (and maybe a little longer) hospitality would be a big mitzva. Also, don't forget to write checks, both for general relief efforts, and to help the Jewish comminities in the affected areas recover.

Good Shabbos


OK, so it's not quite Elul. So sue me.
But Rosh Chodesh Elul is on Sunday, so it will be Elul soon enough.


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