Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Coal

When I have things on my mind, I like to share.  In general, I'm not much of a talker.  I prefer to listen, but I also like to free associate and go with it.  Yet, today, I wanted to share my thoughts but thought better of it.  Not because what I was going to share was deeply personal or revelatory, but because it was an idea; an idea that needed time to percolate.  Most times I like to share my ideas with my friends and family, seeking input and the like.  This time was different.
I knew it was different and the image of the coal came to mind; not the one mined for and used as a fossil fuel, worthy of a later discussion.  The coal that came to mind was the one that every primitive skills survivalist who has worked on making their own fires without a match or lighter knows intimately.  You see, when you need a fire out in the woods and there is no match or lighter to be found, you have one of a multitude of ways to get a fire going; a bow drill, hand drill, hand saw, etc.  Each of these methods uses friction to produce a coal.  It is this coal, this glowing ember that will create the fire; and without the coal, there will be no fire.  When the coal is made, your job is only part way done; that coal has to be fanned into a flame with the help of a tinder bundle (something that will catch fire) and then this "match" has to now light your fire. 
Our ideas are often like that coal.  If you blow on it too hard, it will go out.  If you don't blow on it hard enough, it will also go out.  If you are careless with it, it will go out.  If you do not prepare the tinder bundle correctly, it can go out.  And so on.  Our ideas need to be treated like this coal; it needs to be given the right conditions, the right energy, and the right circumstances in order for it to be fanned into a flame and then a fire.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Letter sent to Citizen's Voice and others

Dear Wyoming Valley,
Ever since I came to the Wyoming Valley over four years ago, I have been working with my synagogue, Temple B’nai B’rith, on a variety of social action projects to help our community; like helping the Domestic Violence Service Center, working with the Dinners 4 Kids program, community-wide winter clothes drives, school supply drives, winter gift drives and more.  All of these were local projects with a modest scope and dependent on the generosity of the members of our congregation and, once in a while, other local organizations.   We have been working to fulfill the Jewish mandate of “repairing the world,” a religious obligation to continue making the world a better place.
When disasters like Superstorm Sandy come through wreaking havoc, it’s easy to succumb to despair, wishing we could do something to help all of those who have been affected and afflicted.  Wishing it could have happened differently, wishing it never happened at all.  But wishing doesn’t change the circumstances, acting does.  Following the tradition of my ancestors, and working with some very motivated people, we decided to help the people of Coney Island USA, (a non-profit) and the people of the region.  Sonny Myslak, an independent truck driver, who has time and again shown his incredible generosity, responded to the call to help by offering his trailer and his time.  When the word was put out to the Wyoming Valley, the response was overwhelming; truly living up to the name, the Valley with a heart.  And your heart was big and full of compassion forthe victims.  The Wyoming Valley knows all too well the enormous destruction that nature can wreak and how important the generosity of strangers was when rebuilding all that was lost.  
In less than a week we filled a 48 foot trailer and brought it down to Coney Island.  When we arrived, you could see the devastation all around the community.  The water had taken over the first floors and didn’t go away for some time; people lost so much and it was obvious that the toll it took was enormous.  We were able to deliver three quarters of our load to two different organizations in the area.   However, when we tried to deliver the rest of the clothes to FEMA and the Red Cross, they had been so inundated with people’s generosity that they were unable to accept any more.  We searched for other organizations that might be able to take the rest but were unsuccessful.  In the end, the time was getting late, we were exhausted and it was time to comehome.   Our mission was extremely successful even though we did not deliver all of the clothes.
I have since learned that neither FEMA nor the Red Cross in NJ, Coney Island or Staten Island are taking any clothing.  They don’t have the capacity to store or sort it.  Having had some experience with clothing drivesand knowing how much effort it takes looking after just a modest amount of clothing, which includes sorting and delivering, I can’t imagine how overwhelmed these organizations must be.  Sounds not unlike the biblical story of when the Israelites were building the portable Tabernacle and had asked for donations.  Moses, too, had to ask them to stop when their generosity exceeded their need.  Today, however, our generosity has not exceeded their need, just their ability to manage it.  This isn’t failure or mismanagement; it’s simply the situation at hand.  Understanding this doesn’t solve the problem with what to do with the leftover bags of winter clothing and gear.  Certainly we could have brought the bags to local organizations like the Salvation Army and they would have been happy to accept such a generous donation.  However, this wouldn’t have fulfilled the original mandate, helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
In conjunction with a few committed members of Temple B’nai B’rith we decided that we could transform the gear into money by having a Rummage Sale.  So, on Sunday, November 25th, Temple B’nai B’rith is hosting a Rummage Sale with all proceeds going to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy.  Your generosity has already helped so many people, now, come by on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, buy some clothing, knowing that your purchase will go directly to helping those tormented communities in Staten Island, Coney Island, Hoboken and so on.  Thank you for continuing to be the Valley with a heart.
Roger Lerner
Rabbi, Temple B’nai B’rith