A note as we get ready for the High Holidays: we will be using the same Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the gray “Harlow Machzor”) that we have used for many years. If you are attending services in person they will be available for you at the synagogue, but if you are attending by Zoom you will need to have a copy.
Last year we made a significant effort to distribute them widely in the congregation and we did not ask for them back after the High Holidays were over, although many of you did nevertheless return them to the shul. If you have your copy from last year or if you own your own personal copy, great. If you do not, they can be obtained inside the synagogue during normal synagogue business hours. We will also put some copies in a box or container outside the synagogue under the awning so you can pick one up 24/6. If you don’t have a copy and absolutely cannot get to the synagogue to pick one up, call or email the office and we will make an effort to deliver one to you. Please do the latter only if it’s absolutely necessary.
I want to send good wishes to all of our students and teachers who are returning to school today. I pray that the coming year turns out to be a year of good learning and good health and that within a few months we may finally return to some semblance of normal life in this country. Please wear your masks, wash your hands, be very very careful, and stay home if you are experiencing symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19.
Yesterday afternoon I spent some time online watching webcams in Louisiana as Hurricane Ida struck on the sixteenth anniversary to the day of Hurricane Katrina. As of this writing hundreds of thousands are still without power, homes and businesses have been destroyed and there are billions of dollars worth of property damage. Only one life has been reported lost so far. Although Hurricane Ida had stronger winds than Katrina, it also carried with it less moisture, and much money and effort had been invested since Katrina in strengthening the levee system. As daylight returns and electricity is restored, we will see the true extent of the damage.
In the weeks and months after Katrina I read some articles which made the case that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. There were a number of reasons given. First of all, New Orleans actually sits below sea level, in a basin, and the cost of trying to make it safe from future floods was disproportionate. In addition, like most American cities New Orleans is economically stratified with pockets of high poverty and poor access to services. Why simply rebuild in place and keep those problems? What about abandoning New Orleans entirely and building a new city, a “Newer Orleans,” in a safer location without replicating the problems of the current city?
These arguments made a lot of sense to me. I know that I made reference to some of these articles in discussions that I had and I may even have mentioned them in sermons. However, it is relevant to know that at the time I read these articles, I had never been to New Orleans.
That changed in November 2019. Keleigh and I spent a few days in New Orleans in what turned out to be our final pre-pandemic plane flight and hotel stay. New Orleans is a magical place. The culture and architecture is unique and a true melange that epitomizes the multicultural nature of this nation. Did you know, for example, that the unique and instantly recognizable French Quarter was actually built when the Spanish controlled New Orleans? We loved our few days there and would gladly go back although admittedly it is a challenge to keep kosher since the residents of New Orleans love their crawfish and alligator sausage. (On the other hand, the world-famous Cafe du Monde is certified kosher.)
I noted in my drashot over Shabbat that in the last couple of weeks a lot of social media posters have pivoted from being experts on epidemiology and infectious diseases to being experts on military strategy and the history of Afghanistan. It’s easy to be an expert on subjects that one knows nothing about. It’s easy to support the abandonment of a historic city where you have never been. But when you speak not only based on something you have read but from lived experience, things become much more complicated and much less simple.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian