Epilogue to What I learned at Robert E. Lee Elementary School

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By Abe J. Wasserberger

[This is an unfortunate update following the original article which appeared in eJP on Aug 17, 2017.]

This most devastating Hurricane, Irma changed the landscape of hundreds of communities leaving a trail of destruction from Barbuda to Florida and the eastern seaboard. Lives lost, property damaged, destroyed, and in this one case, Irma ended a controversy – regarding the name of a public elementary school for a confederate general.

With the exit of Irma from Tampa, life attempts to return to normal – life is slowly reintroduced with an urgency to return to normal as soon as possible – power is restored, communities pick up the pieces and rebuild. However, in the neighborhood where Robert E. Lee Elementary is located, it is believed that restoring power sparked a powerful blaze that burned Robert E. Lee Elementary School to the ground.

Within minutes after power was restored, a loud explosion could be heard coming from the school followed by heavy smoke. While still under investigation, it is believed that this was an accident. Yet in the midst of this fire, more than 300,000 views and comments poured into a local news reporter’s Facebook live coverage of the event. Most comments expressed sadness over the loss while some attributed incendiarism as the cause, fueled by malevolence and racism. This event ran in newspapers around the globe.

“Irma” has many definitions, yet most fitting in this case, Irma is a German baby name from the old German IRMIN, for WAR GODDESS; and wage war on the earth and its occupants is exactly what Irma did. Yet the fires and destruction she created could not extinguish the overwhelming forces of philanthropy – the love of humanity, caring and nourishing of the needs of others that emerged.

In the end, Robert E. Lee Elementary School was named for a Confederate General that like Irma, is now memorized for the devastation rendered. What endures most fires are the stories of heroism, community solidarity and an opportunity to rebuild a better vision for the future.

May the new year renew our deepest prayer for a better, brighter and more philanthropic tomorrow.

Abe J. Wasserberger is Senior V.P. Israel and Global Philanthropy at The Jewish Agency for Israel.