By Rabbi Samantha Safran
The Tuesday after Hurricane Harvey we gathered at our neighbors’ house for a communal dinner. After what felt like endless clouds, rain, and darkness, the first glimpse of sun peeked through a crack in the sky. Sunshine has never made me cry before, but I caught myself fighting back tears as I squinted at the bright light. Finally, I could breathe a sigh of relief. The water that was almost at our door was slowly receding, and it looked like our insulated street block had somehow escaped flooding.
But did anybody in Houston really escape Harvey?
Four weeks later, the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, the High Holy Days. Each year we pray through the lens of whatever has befallen us in the last twelve months. So this year, I prayed through the wet and foggy lens of Harvey. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, sitting in shul and chanting the Unetaneh Tokef, “Who by water and Who by fire,” images of flooding that didn’t previously exist were now the only ones I could conjure. But this year, unlike in years past, the droplets followed me well beyond the Ten Days of Repentance.
On Sukkot, shaking the lulav and praying for rain – were we really ready to pray for more rain? The added seasonal Amidah phrase, reminding ourselves daily: Mashiv haruach u’morid hagashem, “God who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.” Parashat Noach, the flood, the aftermath, understanding Noah’s tragic fate in light of our own PTSD. A challah cover donated to the J that we (still) drape over the loaves each Friday to recite the Shabbat blessings with our children and families, inscribed with Song of Songs 8:7, Many waters cannot quench love [nor can the floods drown it].” During Hanukkah, recognizing varying degrees of miracles – “the water came close but we didn’t flood,” or, “we flooded but it was only a few inches,” or “our house was practically submerged but we were rescued”… Springtime, Tu b’Shevat, renewal, planting seeds, how long before our city can blossom again? Pesach, the end of the (Israeli) rainy season, newfound freedom. The list goes on.
And here we are again, the Yamim Noraim, one year later. I am hoping to wipe the condensation off my lens, to wipe the slate clean. It’s time to reflect, repent, repair, rebuild. The Machzor stays the same, but we are different. What will take the place of water this year? I am hoping for sunshine.
Rabbi Samantha Safran is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston.