September 1, 2017 admin

On destruction and creation

I had a nightmare last night which concluded with a vision of our home smashed to pieces, debris all over the ruined garden, the animals dead, the family scattered and broken. I woke up not only frightened but with that sense of inner unease and dismay which dreams sometimes leave.

A few moments’ thought made me realise where this vision had come from: the terrible flooding in Texas; the appalling devastation caused by the monsoon in Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; the burnt-out homes and lives destroyed at Grenfell; the hurt and pain I often witness close at hand. I am sure everyone knows the details, but

My colleague Julie Schonfeld, the Executive Director of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly, wrote:

Our hearts are breaking over the circumstances of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Congregation Beth Yeshurun of Houston, one of the flagship Conservative synagogues in North America, took on very heavy flooding throughout the building. The homes of at least 500 congregant households were flooded.

Houses, schools, churches, mosques, factories are ruined, leaving hundreds of thousands exposed to the health dangers which threaten to follow: “From the bacteria, viruses, and fungi harbored in floodwaters to a potentially staggering mental health toll inflicted on those hardest hit by Harvey, the risks are expected to be great.” (The Houston Chronicle)

Shocking as this is, the flooding in South east Asia is on a different scale. A third of Bangladesh is under water; Nepal, significant swathes of India and now of Pakistan are devastated. Children are particularly affected. As schools close, so pupils lose key periods of their education. “The longer children are out of school following a disaster the less likely it is that they’ll ever return. That’s why it’s so important that education is properly funded in this response.” (Rafay Hussain, Save the Children)

I remember at the close of my nightmare trying to find the family to talk about rebuilding. Soon after I woke up I found myself thinking about the words of Rebbe Shalom Noach of Slonim, which we put near the front of our Shivah book of prayers in times of mourning:

A broken heart
must always belong to the world of building
not to the world of destruction

I thought then of how rich the language of creativity is in the liturgy: borei – create; yotzer – fashion; bonei – build; oseh – make. From the intimate domain of the heart to the vast creation of the universe, – with homes, communities and the city of Jerusalem, symbolically representing all human habitation, in between – God’s creativity, with our own creative capacities in partnership, pervades our prayers and hopes.

The power of destruction is fierce in nature and, tragically, in humanity. But let the courage, determination, generosity and imagination of those who strive to build and create be greater!

Julie Schonfeld referred me to the relief fund established by The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston to which local colleagues have asked people to donate.I will send a contribution on behalf of the synagogue.

The DEC (the 10 leading UK charities) will have appeals for South East Asia. See

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