Puttin’ On Shabbat – Shalom Rav / Blue Skies
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
As we prepare to sit down at our Seder tables, it’s likely that we’re spending it at the home of a family member or friend whose floor is dry and whose table isn’t sitting up on blocks. This past week’s flood has set us all on edge. No one escaped entirely, but some suffered more than others. Sadly, many who just returned after months of flood recovery watched as waters rose and invaded their homes again. It’s been a nightmare to relive it and revisit emotions that still remain very raw.
Congregation Beth Israel is ready to assist, though we have our own nightmare to address. The main sanctuary has suffered significant water damage again. Despite repairs and preventative measures, water came in from one of the stained glass windows, and up from below to fill tunnels beneath the floor. The robing room, choir room, stairwells, and back bathroom have all sustained flooding, along with the area beneath the bimah, which is nearly filled with water. The Sanctuary will need to undergo major repairs. Ingenuity and expertise will be necessary. If you want to assist immediately either the congregation or families who have been affected, or both, we are accepting cash donations and gift cards that we will distribute to families in need.
Since 1968, when Beth Israel’s new building was first dedicated, we have never seen so much water damage over the course of one year’s time. The same must be true for your own homes and places of business, too. What could be the source of such misery? I believe there are two sources but only one we can address together.
First, there is the natural flow of the seasons and the rains. Houston does everything in a big way and our rains and humidity have earned us a reputation. But, the rains will come and the humidity, too, and there’s nothing we can do about either one. Except that the invention of air-conditioning resolved the problem of humidity so that our city grew and its residents lived more happily and productively.
Therein lies the second source of our trouble. When the rains come and the waters rise and floods devastate us, we pitch in and dry out and rebuild. But, the waters never rose the way they did this past year and they shouldn’t rise like this ever again. Whether it’s the bayou, the system of dams, or water retention projects that engineers mastered, it all boils down to man-made projects that account for recent shifts in rising waters where they never rose in the past. No one is asking for total culpability, but all of us should be demanding a permanent resolution to this crisis. We’re not living directly on the coast and we’re not building homes and businesses in flood plains. We’ve lived here for decades and established whole communities. It shouldn’t be satisfactory to Houston leaders and city planners for whole swaths of the city to be inundated every time it rains heavily. It’s not a matter of a 100 or 500-year flood event; it matters that it happens even once. When it happens twice in less than 12 months, plans should already be underway to make deep investments in the well-being of our residents in every part of the city. Air-conditioning healed our humidity woes; real water control solutions can heal our flooding nightmares.
I’m calling on our Mayor and city leaders, Houston’s clergy and community organizers, and citizens and business leaders across the flooded region to accept nothing less than a comprehensive plan to resolve the insecurity we suffer against rising flood waters. The project feels as big as Texas, but the lack of a comprehensive plan threatens everything we’ve come to know and what we count on in the future. This is an economic, demographic and human tragedy that must be addressed immediately.
Passover symbolizes deeper issues of human suffering well beyond matters of flooding (it didn’t even rank as a plague), but it also speaks of freedom from bondage. If emotional and physical insecurity strikes when it rains, which is a simple and natural occurrence, then it’s a form of bondage from which we must seek relief. Direct your funds to rebuild and remake lives and property that are damaged. Then direct your words and actions to demand that real solutions are found to restore these flooded plains into the Bayou City we love and remember.