Sarah Tuttle-Singer – Friday, January 25, 2019
From the Rabbi David Lyon
When two-hundred people arrive for dinner you better have enough food, place-settings, tables and chairs to accommodate them. That’s why Congregation Beth Israel was ready with everything, especially many volunteer hands and warm hearts. On Wednesday evening, June 3, 2015, a team of Beth Israel volunteers and staff welcomed flood-tired homeowners and apartment dwellers from across the neighborhood to come in for a terrific spaghetti dinner, tossed salad, Crave cupcakes, and sno-cones, plus take-home packages for tomorrow’s dinner, mosquito repellant, and extra cupcakes.
With big hugs and smiles, we welcomed people we knew and also new friends into Wolff-Toomim Hall. As I welcomed families and individuals, young and old, I asked them how they were getting along. Their stories were told in inches; how high the water rose and how far they had to cut the drywall. No one was spared the frustration that came after the waters receded. Some people were living upstairs in their homes and others were in apartments or relatives’ homes. For all of them, it would be some time before they would come home to the familiar routine they once knew before the rains fell and the flood waters rose. Remarkably, all of them also said they found a silver lining: the waters could have risen higher, others had it worse than me, and “this too shall pass”, which was worn by many who slipped on the now familiar orange bracelet, a gift from us to them.
As I approached a few tables, it was obvious that the diners were tired, really worn out. We talked a bit. When I saw that their cups were low on drink, I offered to fill them. They didn’t refuse my offer. It was such a pleasure to walk across the room to fill up their cups with lemonade and iced-tea. They came to sit and eat dinner in a caring community, and sometimes care comes in the form of small gestures. I don’t know how to fix a wall or tear out carpeting, though I could learn if I had to. But, I know a lot about reading people’s needs and aiming to fill them, even when it’s just a cup of lemonade.
Near the end of the evening, I said to one of my colleagues that it was a real mitzvah to open our doors to the neighborhood. Almost all the food was gone with just enough to have lunch tomorrow for the staff who helped us serve. No reward was sought and no reward would have been welcomed. That’s a real mitzvah, when we do for others with no request for anything in return. We’d do it again if we had to, but I hope and pray that Houston will be spared this hurricane season. In the event that storms come again, please prepare your homes, listen to warning alerts, and don’t take chances.
I’m very grateful to the team of volunteers and Temple staff who arrived in droves to help and serve. There’s nothing we can’t do, together. While our own spiritual home is still in need of repair in the sanctuary, there’s nothing wrong with our spiritual hearts and souls. Judaism is about much more than prayer; it’s about deeds. God revels in deeds we do for each other; and, though floods are a curse to us, they are overcome when we reach deeply within us to find that the blessing of the human spirit burns brightly and cannot be extinguished, even by rising waters. Evidence of it was seen tonight at Beth Israel, and more can be found at ERJCC, Houston Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service.
Let’s press on and encourage each other to do what we must. A Yiddish proverb teaches, “If you can’t go over the obstacle, then go around.” You understand. The obstacle remains but how we address it can change. Let’s join hands and strengthen each other to overcome what we can and go around all the rest.