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Jewish Framing for Natural Disasters

In the wake of the recent hurricanes, we have clear instructions on what we can do to offer tangible help to those affected. Those of us watching from afar should rightfully be centering the experiences of those directly affected; in particular, special attention should be given to vulnerable populations, and a deep understanding and lasting commitment to supporting them will be crucial to recovery.

But we must also, with care and sensitivity, create space to acknowledge the ways that national tragedies, and those who affect members of our larger identities and communities, can take an emotional toll on us. Processing that energy can, and must, be directed toward furthering our own education, our ability to be effective in response and relief efforts, our amplification of the voices that carry the least power, and our acknowledgement of the resilience of survivors.

Indeed, in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8), we find the Hebrew word oniin this context translated to mourning. But this word is found elsewhere in our scripture to describe vigor; in Genesis 49:3, Jacob refers to his first-born son Reuben as reshit oni, the first fruit of my vigor. It is no coincidence that grief and strength are found side by side, for it is from the depths of despair that we find fortitude, but it’s far from a passive evolution.

The strength of our Jewish community rests on the foundation of our entire existence; time and time again we’ve been put to the test, and time and time again we’ve demonstrated and incredible ability to take matters into our own hands and turn tragedy into power. It’s no great surprise that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we see NFTY Texas Oklahoma RegionURJ Greene Family Camp, Congregation Emanu El Houston, and the Jewish Community Center of Houston stepping up as partners and leaders, proclaiming proudly through words and actions, “we’ve got this!” And folks, we’re following your lead.

For those looking to draw inspiration and framing from our Jewish faith to process this hurricane season’s devastation, consider:

Jewish Theology of Disaster and Recovery
by Rabbi Myrna Matsa

South Carolina, Climate Change, and Floods of Biblical Proportions
by Rachel Landman

Acts of God? A Jewish Perspective on Natural Disasters
by Rabbi Laura Geller

How Can We Help Children Cope With Natural Disasters?
by Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher

Prayer for Safety During a Hurricane
by Alden Solovy