There is a Yiddish folktale that tells of a poor, simple man who lived with his mother, wife, and six children in a small single-room hut. In such a crowded situation, the man and his wife would often argue, and the children were noisy and would bicker. In winter, when the night was long and the day was cold, the situation was especially difficult—so much so, that the man went to his rabbi for advice. Scratching his beard, the rabbi instructed the man to bring his chickens and rooster into his house. He did so and, not surprisingly, the situation became even worse, and returned to the rabbi. With successive visits, the rabbi instructed the man to bring into the hut his geese, an old goat, and finally his cow. Finally, at wit’s end, the man returned to the rabbi. At this point, the rabbi told the man to return all of the animals to the yard. The man did so, lived in his “new” situation for the night, and went running to the rabbi in the morning, thanking the wise man: “Holy Rabbi,” he cried, “you have made life sweet for me. With just my family in the hut, it’s so quiet, so roomy, so peaceful…. What a pleasure!” (Yiddish folktale, retold in It Could Always be Worse by Margot Zemach) I write this in mid-November, and many in Port Washington remain without power. Separately, we know our town has endured this storm with remarkably little bodily injury or irreparable damage to property. The shores of Southern Long Island and New Jersey have fared less well. There, we see stories of neighbor helping neighbor, and volunteers bringing in caravans of essential needs donated hours if not states away. Perhaps the most poignant of such industrial-sized care packages came this week from Louisiana: those directly hit by Hurricane Katrina particularly understand what it is like to have generations of memories and stability lost in a day. Would I say to those on the South Shore of Nassau, “Don’t worry—it could always be worse?” Of course not. This folktale has been swimming in my mind these past weeks because it recalls many of our local experiences: So many of us were temporarily displaced, in large shelters or daytime warming stations, as guests in others’ homes or, when we were able, welcoming additional whole families into our own. We were without power and cellular reception. We struggled to be in contact with our loved ones, tried to salvage the food we had in our refrigerator and freezers, and carefully planned our driving during gas rationing. We missed important medical appointments and lost valuable time at work and school. At the same time, some of us have never been closer. We reinforced friendships and made new ones. Schreiber, Landmark, and the Library were not only sheltered sites but also community centers. Our small PJC became another place for power, internet, sleeping in a pinch, and both physical and communal warmth. We learn the Jewish value of hachnasat orchim early on: Abraham, sitting in the shade of his tent, sees three men caravanning. Not waiting for them to approach, he eagerly runs to them and offers them a meal and shelter in the heat of the day. Almost four thousand years later, many were doing the same. When one of us regained power, we implored others not to tough it out, but to please come stay with us. We wanted to open our homes. By the time you read this, I hope that all in Port Washington will be back in their own homes with power restored and essential repairs complete. But others will be in need of our help. We should not wait to be asked, but rather eagerly run to do address their needs. We will be sharing with you opportunities to do just that. And while it may seem trite, and we acknowledge the loss of life and property in our region, we look at all the close calls and miraculous rescues, the warm homes opened and the meals donated and served, and we know that, without such a welcoming communitand the companionship of family and friends, it could have been much worse.
Rabbi Sheila Goloboy