What a tumultuous start to 5778, the New Year as reckoned in the Hebrew calendar. How ironic and overwhelming that the fires should begin their deadly transformation of life as we had known it, during the Sukkot holiday. Hearing a survivor on the Monday morning after the fires broke out describing it as Armageddon called to mind the Haftarah we read the Saturday before, for the Shabbat of Sukkot. The prophet Ezekiel prophesizes conflict in the world and in nature that the rabbis reckon as Armageddon. Our tradition associates the depth of such conflict with Sukkot in anticipation of the world coming to its theological, spiritual and ethical “senses”. After all the doubt and despair from the destruction and devastation, what will ultimately prevail is the ushering in of the Age of Shalom.
At the by-monthly meeting of the Napa Men’s Group that met the Tuesday of the second week of the fires, one person said the drive down to the facility, (which narrowly escaped the flames of the Atlas Peak fire) reminded him of his drive down, years earlier, the morning of 9/11 (which was a Tuesday) as he looked forward to the kinds of hugs he remembered that day so many years earlier (the group is now in its 19th year).
I suspect that each of us has been affected by what happened in different kinds of ways. The smoke alone, with its inclusion of dangerous micro-particle toxins, made life unhealthy even for people far away from the fire zone.
The suddenness of the outbreak and the randomness of who was struck even in zones where a house here or there somehow was left mostly intact among entirely lost neighborhoods brings to consciousness how illusory our controls are in areas of life we take for granted, such as the assumption of having a home to return to after a day at school or work.
As I write these words, Anne and Bill Howson and I have just returned from a visit to Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa, a community in which over 30 of its members lost their homes. We brought a check of $1800 (the 18 symbolizes life) from CBI for the synagogue to distribute in addressing the overwhelming needs to help those with limited resources for coping. Volunteers from all over the area have been coming to the synagogue to assist with meals and with provisions for day care and day camp programs for now homeless kids. The camp itself, now in its closing days, as increasingly families locate places to resettle (again with the help of the broader community now offering second homes for long term usage), has been run by volunteers. Even those that haven’t lost homes are so disoriented that the provision of home cooked meals for them is a most welcome offering.
The reality is that this is not an easily solved “problem” and all of us individually, as neighbors, and as communities (i.e. the CBI community) will be needed to heed any and all calls for help and assistance, many yet to be identified. With the passage of time, it is essential we not let this crisis fade or lose our attention. If anything, in the coming months and more, increased efforts will be necessary to continue to do what we can to provide some semblance of normalcy and hope until such a time when this will all become a bad memory.
While Sukkot with its celebration of the harvest of humanity looking out for one another, as a higher priority than acquiring material possessions to enhance enjoyment of life, now becomes its own memory, the message and aftermath of Sukkot, as always, remains with us. This holiday was associated with judgment of how the coming year could unfold specifically in terms of rain, associated with hopefully a bountiful harvest. Jewishly, the message is that regardless of how much or little rain falls this year, what matters is our connections with one another and our commitment to remember that all our resources are gifts from HaShem, the Power of Life. Therefore our responsibility is to share these gifts and apportion them where necessary to assure that all that are vulnerable have their needs addressed and provided for.
This year in particular that message is essential to remind us to stay the course of commitment to be of help where it is needed and do all we can to help those suffering more than we to assure that they regain balance and wellbeing in their lives.
Wherever you found yourself and family in your journey through life before the Days of Awe and its closure with Sukkot, I suspect that, as surely as you had days when you needed to escape the smoke, if you were fortunate enough to not have to also deal directly with fire, your lives and your journey in this realm has changed. One such change hopefully is in the direction of becoming even more conscious and aware that your actions matter and your attention to Tikkun/Repair is needed more than ever to vouchsafe not only your wellbeing, but particularly to improve the conditions of those whose world has changed so dramatically for the worse.
May we all be sources of strength and blessing as we move through this year and these precarious times.