Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

A week of disaster

It’s hard to be chipper this week.

There are two ongoing disasters — thankfully, they have nothing to do with Jews — that are clouding everything, the way that the volcano in Iceland spewed smoke that fogged most of Europe, or the way that smoke from the disastrous fires on the West Coast made their way all the way over to us, here on the edge of the Atlantic.

One of the disasters is mainly geological, but layered on top of politics and economics; the other is purely history and human evil.

The first is Haiti. How can all this — a desperately poor, mismanaged country that suffered an earthquake a decade ago, from which it never fully recovered, notoriously corrupt governments, political violence that culminated in the president being murdered in his own bed in his own bedroom in his own house by men who dressed like his own guards, and now another earthquake, with nearly 2,000 people dead, many more people injured, some severely, and much of the buildings that withstood the last quake leveled, razed to the ground now – how can this be possible? How can this one place and this one people suffer so much? How can people just keep going?

But they do. And they do. We know they do.

And then there’s Afghanistan.

Don’t worry, readers. This is not the time or place for politics, or for the emotions that politics evoke. In this case, it’s likely to be two Jews, 3,397 opinions, at the very least. There will be enough to talk about and argue about for years to come.

But I look at the photographs of the airport, and read the stories, and I — like I suspect many of you — try to imagine myself there. And because I am lucky, I fail. I cannot.

It’s really unimaginable. The sort of torture and the kind of death that most likely would await many of them literally is beyond my imagination. But I look at the Afghans at the airport and I think of Jews putting their children on Kindertransport trains. I think of families sending their children out to journey across the continent and then across the ocean to go to what was for them a mythic, unmapped new world. I think of the mixture of courage and desperation it must have taken, and I know that I cannot imagine myself into it.

And I know that I am very lucky.

We are all, all of us living as free people in the United States of America, extraordinary lucky that someone — maybe our parents, our grandparents, or our great-grandparents (and I assume some of our readers themselves) — chose to leave everything they knew and risk it all on coming here. And we’re also lucky that this country took us in, and allowed so many of us to flourish. To live lives that would have been unimaginable to the generations stuck in pogrom- and poverty-infested central or eastern Europe.

Our country is going through a very hard time right now, but all of it – baseless hatred, anti-Semitism, racism, tribalism, white supremacy, insurrection — is mild compared to what we see across the world. We are lucky.

It is our obligation to protect what we have, and to share it. It is our obligation to get vaccinated, even if we’re sure that we’re too tough to be harmed by a virus, because it would protect other people, the immunocompromised and the under-12s, and help reduce the likelihood of more dangerous new mutations.

It is our obligation to stop hating. We have been given much, and we should not repay that good fortune with malice.

I am so grateful for what I have. 

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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