Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

Finding the calm within the storm

I am looking out my window in coastal Connecticut and the trees are swaying relentlessly, bending to the wind’s increasing power, but not yet breaking.  As the gusts increase through the afternoon, it only seems a matter of time.

I know that for many who live in Sandy’s enormous swath, there is an even greater threat, as the sea itself prepares to make landfall in a manner that, they tell us, we’ve never seen before.

In the primeval narrative of Genesis, the wind brought about a separation of waters, and then a separation of water from dry land. We’re seeing before our eyes an undoing of this primal act of order. Sandy is a return to the primordial chaos. Instinctively we recognize it.

Or at least my dogs do.

We need only pull ourselves from our electronic devices and look out the window.

The Hebrew word for wind is ruah, which also means “spirit.” In Judaism, the meteorological and spiritual are deeply intertwined. The experience of a storm is a profoundly spiritual one, even in our day. Perhaps especially in our day, since, even when we can pinpoint well in advance what will happen, we are completely powerless to stop it. The weather is one of the few things left that reduces us to mush in the face of its power. It makes us realize how insignificant we really are.

Insignificant — and interdependent.

All we have is one another right now. And our hope in the God whom the ancients envisioned riding on this spirit-wind, and whom we imagine giving us the strength to overcome its impact.

I’ve collected some inspirational readings to help give strength to those going through Sandy right now, in her various permutations, so that you can find your own place of calm within the storm.

See this collection of Jewish prayers of healing and hope during a time of natural disaster, collected by the URJ.

Also see this prayer for safety during a hurricane. And Naomi Levy’s Psalm for victims of a hurricane or flood.

No one should be traveling now, but for those who are, there is the traditional Tefillat Hadereh, the Wayfarer’s Prayer.

My own poem, “The Storm Before the Calm” is a commentary on Psalm 29, the storm psalm, in light of modern Jerusalem and the peace process (it was written a few years ago, when there was one).

With my fervent hope that everyone finds a safe place — and that we can all come together to give thanks when the worst is over.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307