“You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)
JUDAISM BROUGHT TO LIFE.
Last week I traveled to California and visited Napa and Sonoma counties. The trip touched me in many ways.
Approximately 6 months ago, Napa and Sonoma counties were ablaze from an out of control wildfire that incinerated an area larger than New York City.
The Devastation of a Fire Lingers Beyond The Flame.
The wildfires killed at least 44 people and destroyed 8,900 buildings.
The Santa Rosa Reform Jewish Synagogue, Congregation Shomrei Torah, lost one of its Past President’s die in the fire. Some 50 Congregational families lost their homes and nearly everyone was forced to evacuate.
After the fires were extinguished and the scope of the disaster was known, members of Congregation Shomrei Torah realized that their problems had only begun.
Many in the congregation could not return home because of smoke damage. Parents couldn’t go back to work: with schools closed: no one could take care of their children.
Economically, certain sectors of the local economy went into overdrive, while other sectors laid off.
Deaths from stroke and heart attack, even among those that didn’t suffer damage in the fire, skyrocketed due to stress and poor air quality.
As Congregation Shomrei Torah learned, post-fire challenges were not restricted to Jewish families.
Those suffering the most included undocumented farmworkers who had no social safety net. These families, fearing deportation, were reluctant to ask for government help.
Congregation Shomrei Torah instinctively fell back on Jewish values and teachings. It opened its doors to everyone from the community regardless of religion, immigration status and/or language.
Congregation Shomrei Torah provided child care, food, and cash shopping cards to all who needed help; no questions asked.
Last week I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Stephanie Kramer, Associate Rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Torah speak. She said that most of the families the Congregation helped had “no other place to turn” other than her synagogue.
Every day for weeks, scores of families accepted Congregation Shomrei Torah’s offers of food, childcare, shelter, and money.
The Clergy even re-purposed their “sacred space” into a playroom when they installed a children’s Bounce House in the Sanctuary. Rabbi Kramer said that the Rabbis agreed that there was a no more sacred use of the Sanctuary than taking care of others at a time of natural disaster.
Leviticus 19:18 commands us to “…Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”.
Many Jews wonder if the Torah through its ancient words and dusty documents have relevance to life in modern-day America.
Congregation Shomrei Torah’s reaction to the wildfires answers the question of the relevance of the Torah to modern life. Their actions were the living embodiment of Leviticus 19:18. Congregation Shomrei Torah brought Judaism to life.
The California wildfires were a disaster of great proportion and nothing that anyone can do will restore Santa Rosa to what it was before the fire. However, through their selfless acts of giving, Congregation Shomrei Torah showed that Jewish spirituality can exist in even the worst of circumstances.