Human and Don’t Forget Animal Welfare: More Mitzvah Storming

Hurricane Sandy Mitzvah Storming IV

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

1. Did you see Anat Hoffman’s tag line in her outreach for support of victims of Hurricane Sandy. “We are family,” she writes and cites Haaretz that “Israelis have followed no event in the United States as closely as Hurricane Sandy…and fact, New York City is the metropolitan area with the second largest Jewish population of any city after Tel Aviv.” Perhaps you have also seen the organization that serves Holocaust survivors soliciting Hurricane relief funds targeted for them. Never did it occur to me to fund raise based on the Jewishness of those affected — we are a human family during emergencies.

More after the jump.
Helping each other as equally as possible with eyes blind to difference, if not now, when? Many different religions are housing each others services right now in affected areas. Can we keep this a “simply human” situation, so many are still freezing in the dark and even still, without sufficient gasoline to relocate or forage for food?

Reports of houses of worship across every religion are now sharing sacred space throughout impacted regions, how inspiring is that? Candlelight b’nei mitzvah and first communions have abounded. While stories of religious leaders and youth groups going door to door have arrived in various movements’ press releases — I see no reason for us to get extra credit, claim credit, or pat ourselves on the back. Mitzvot are done for their own sake, not ours. And, yes, many of us will help repair synagogues, in Judaism lives get attention first.

When some of those I asked to join me in a trip to work in a shelter or setting the tikkun olam (social action) committee into motion, some replies most resembled this: “We only give and volunteer locally.” I felt very nonplussed and judgmental. It took awhile to process this with them.  Such a response turns out to come primarily from  “green thinking” that applies to every day living. Emergency funding and support has a very key strategic concept embedded – preventing emergency conditions from becoming chronic. Thinking local doesn’t do it for large scale emergencies, it compounds the long-term burden on society big time.

This morning I was reading an emergency room physician’s plea for people to be more aggressive about finding, taking in and insisting others get out of this cold wave– to prevent pneumonia and much more. The factors are pain and suffering, and costs of associated healthcare, and rehab of buildings that stay soggy rather than dry…I’m sure you get the point. Those who wrote us to volunteer to help with clean-up are in action in NJ as I write, I will again be with them today. They’ve asked for anonymity. Menschlichkeit is awesome.

Why were the tikkun olam committees in place throughout most Jewish organizations seemingly not pro-active rather than reactive? I’m sure many will be pondering this soon. The trauma of awaiting the storm is what I saw in the eyes of our Philly locals, it was so draining and some of our internet servers were ruined in lower Manhattan, underwater. So with compassion, we can move on to creating pro-active plans and assignments…for the next time. As my son who was evacuated from the Jersey shore put it: “We’ve had three storms this year already, the next time could be next week.”

2. Overarching best ways to help for those who live at a distance are clarifying — first, donate blood, this need has become urgent. Injuries to rescue and repair workers are vast because of the extremely hazardous conditions.…

3. The the vastness of need for clothing is proving to require bulk funding for bulk purchase of goods.Brooklyn Neighbors in Need Fund (a not-for-profit)”… asks that you…” donate money so we can buy the 600 pairs of underwear (socks, towels, belts, etc) we need for the Armory or John Jay.” [shelters].

Per the Red Cross: “The cost to sort, package and distribute these types of donations to disaster victims is usually greater than the cost of purchasing the items locally, and it is logistically impossible to distribute a wide variety of individual items in a meaningful and equitable way during an emergency of this magnitude.” Instead, make a financial gift via, 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.  

4. Let’s not overlook the crisis in animal welfare. The Humane Society of the United States and American Humane Society are seeking donations to help rescue stranded pets and help animals in shelters. In every affected state they are looking for volunteers due the vast numbers of displaced pets.

5. The Food Bank For New York City has different ways for you to get involved: You can donate by texting FBNYC to 50555.

6. Clean-up Teams. All clean-up volunteers that have contacted us have been put into action through the State of New Jersey volunteer coordination effort. When asked, these volunteers requested anonymity — what menschlichkeit, thank you! By all means now fly direct – opportunities abound to help in shelters, door-to-door, clean-up and more.

Some more links just supplied by my ever-mitzvah-centered colleague Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit:

Most federations and many denominations are running support campaigns as well through links on their websites.

7. Prayer.

May we be blessed with the ability to heal, help, vote, and plan wisely for the future.

Via Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, a litany of prayers composed by Rabbi Samuel Barth and Rabbi David Ingber, folded together and expanded by The Rev. Peter Elvin, 2 November 2012:

*A Litany after the Hurricane*

Source of all Life, soothe hearts aching with pain and loss in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Strengthen all responders, all relief workers, all friends and neighbors, to do their best to alleviate suffering, heal injury, and restore services upon which our daily lives are built. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of Compassion, you are close to all who are confused and bewildered in the wake of this shocking storm. Quicken their recognition of your
presence all around them. Free their ability to move through shock, to see and make their very best choices. Stir our resolve to support, encourage, donate, and pray. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of Wisdom, move within all of our hearts and minds and wills to learn the most important questions to ask and answer. Instill your wisdom
in all who are responsible for public policy, for future preparedness, for re-building and for re-thinking, as the elements of your created order? wind and rain, tide and surge– disorder our old assumptions. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of all Creativity, anoint our wisdom, our technology, our compassion, and our national will to rise from the watery grave of this storm and claim the new life your Spirit desires and our future requires. Inspire us to find flexible ways to cooperate across old boundaries, freeing energy and resources to move with your blessing. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.


Mitzvah Storming: Be the hands of God for Victims of Sandy

Mitzvah Storming Part 3

a. Invite People In. Convince those home shivering in the remaining affected PA, NY, NJ, New England, etc. areas to come to you if they can or otherwise get out of the cold. I’m just off the phone with the Red Cross and those sticking it out are lowering core temperature, losing good judgment. Urge them to go  shelters, drive to friends, huddle with neighbors. Go pick them up if feasible and they can’t get to you.

b. Join our Mitzvah Storming Work Parties The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is in league with, collecting names of those willing to join work parties when the federal and state agencies give a green light. We will quickly partner with other non-profits, when they become able to move into action. NJ State and FEMA are still not allowing residents to return to homes in Atlantic City.

Assessments of what is needed in affected areas are still underway. We’re grouping responses by state and country (some have responded from as far as Canada! Thank you!) When other national organizations get their lower Manhattan servers above water, we will quickly connect these lists to their efforts.

More ideas after the jump.
c. Storm Food, Insulin, Ice and Maybe Fuel. Many write that gasoline is sold out where the power is out, store shelves are empty and now they can’t forage long distances to find markets with food. Watch the media, if you have access to find out where this is true, go shopping and bring food if the roads are open.  

d. Give blood wherever you live, supply channels will get it to those affected. Also, Red Cross is very stretched with food packets: fund them and offer to help make more. Network on Facebook, like I do, to find others in similar areas, join together to bring a supply caravan.

e. Double Down on Winter Coat, Glove, Hat and Sweater Drive Donations. There are going to be vastly more homeless folks for quite a long time. Do you really need more than one winter coat? Go through the closet and get started. Find the local depot and post it to your Facebook, synagogue lists, etc. with this note please.

f. Donate:

g. Big Wheels: Get your organization/synagogue to buy tanker shares and send in fuel. If you trust yourself to do this safely, network to see who with a generator now has no fuel. Carbon footprint becomes a secondary concern to the mitzvah of pikuakh nefesh, saving lives. Pneumonia is a serious problem as folks shiver and shake. Have this option in place for future disasters – we need more advance disaster tikkun olam prep in place, it seems.

h. Remember your ambivalence about internet phone services? We were right to be concerned. Among those without power, we’ve learned some still have old-fashioned phone lines-please scan your phone lists and those of organizations to reach out to people to reduce isolation. It’s not a trivial matter; social service experts are very concerned about those already depressed being further isolated by the storm. Knock on doors, don’t assume.

i.  Lament, vent, then, when your soul can do it, express the good but don’t be dragged to the good by well-intentioned people who don’t understand trauma. Reduce the potential for acute stress reaction to turn into PTSD, create conference call and local minyan sharing forums to speak about what this has been like for you – empty out so that you can refill with spirit.

j. Take in a new round of guests who stuck it out and now need TLC. Discuss how to help with your children and grandchildren – have them call relatives and classmates in affected areas, invite them to come and stay with you, if you haven’t yet. They have tried to stick it out – that may be getting very old. We are finding those who were doing so are ready for our guest room and some TLC. What’s your experience?

k. Give blood, run blood drives, everywhere you live, the Red Cross will channel it to where it needs to go.

l. Vote only for candidates and parties who get it – we are ONE— “it” being global warming, the need for carefully coordinated federal disaster programs, for quality American and world-wide environmental planning, healthcare and education — all that. Why have I not, heretofore, focused on global warming initiatives? Clearly one first cares for the wounded in front of us, pikuakh nefesh in the here and now is the Jewish action directive first principle for disasters. And by the way — have you signed up for a Mitzvah Storming work party? [email protected]? Or are you better abled to donate a winter coat? Make a donation via all the national calls for funds now emerging?  

Mitzvah Storming During Hurricane Sandy

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Mitzvah Storming Part 1

As we batten down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, there are many mitzvot to undertake for family and neighbors. Here are several that come quickly to mind that I haven’t seen on the standard sites to help us prepare.

  1. Call elderly neighbors and those who are disabled and/or unemployed, physically ill or emotionally fragile to ask if they need help bringing things in from outside, property and auto protection, make sure they secure sufficient food, water and batteries. You might bring them in to stay in a guestroom to reduce fear and isolation, ensure warmth and safety.
  2. Are you the wrong person to be alone right now? Call friends, family and neighbors and arrange to stay with them. Bring provisions, flashlights and batteries to help out. Far better safe than sorry.
  3. Make a regular check-in plan for while the storm rages, if electric goes out, keep these short and reassuring so as not to lose all your battery.
  4. Now and during the storm, start collecting things to donate to those who will have had major losses, talk together about a family tzedakah plan for funds to donate as well.
  5. No one to reach out to? E-mail me and our team at PJVoice will do our best to respond.