Ben Herman
Building Community, One Person at a Time

Response to Surfside

There are some things for which there are no words. On Thursday I did two funerals where I spoke about why we thank God at times of tragedy-because when we feel vulnerable, that the world has slipped out from underneath our footsteps, we need to find some rock to anchor ourselves, and that rock with a capital R is God. However, how can we thank God in the midst of a tragedy: the structural collapse of the Champlain Towers South Building? How can we be thankful when people are missing and all that might remain of them are DNA traces under the rubble? How can we be grateful when so many don’t know if their loved ones are alive or dead?

Unlike in my lengthy Israel sermon last week, this week I have very little to say. A presumed 99 victims in the middle of the night, unaware that the ground beneath their feet was crumbling. A community that I best knew for its kosher scene, especially Mendel’s Backyard BBQ, now in one of the most gripping, horrific and terrible tragedies our country has ever seen.

In an emergency rabbi meeting on Thursday evening, Rabbi Jonathan Berkun spoke about the importance of being present at these moments. He had flown out to Pittsburgh where he father, Alvin Berkun, served as rabbi of Tree of Life Congregation. He was at Surfside Thursday along with Rabbi Fred Klein and countless others, seeing what they could do in a pastoral role. While my Thursday and Friday schedules preclude me from going, I plan to be at Surfside after Sunday minyan. The 17th of Tammuz is the date on which we remember the beginning of the end of the Second Temple, with the Romans breaking through the walls of Jerusalem. It is certainly an appropriate day to respond pastorally to those who have undergone such a horrific tragedy-the destruction of their homes or the homes of their loved ones.

In times of trauma, all one can do is listen and be present. I do not know what I will find tomorrow at Surfside. All I know is that just as it was my job as a rabbi to be in Israel after trauma so too is it my job to be at Surfside without an agenda, just to see who needs a listening ear. It is our job to help however we can. The Greater Miami Jewish Federation has a centralized fund for which they will use the monies collected to help meet the specific needs of those who lost their homes and who are currently living in two hotels in the area.

I pray for those affected by this traumatic tragedy and that I can do my small part to attend to their needs. Often people have good intentions but don’t respond in the way most needed. Sometimes all that is needed is to be present and listen to one person rather than bringing in a truckload of food and clothes. I trust the Federation with the latter and I will engage in the former.

About the Author
Rabbi Ben Herman is the Senior Rabbi at Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California. He has previously created initiatives and helped implement programs such as Drive In Shabbat, a Drive Through Sukkah, a student-led musical service called Friday Night Live, Shabbat on the Beach, and the United Synagogue Schechter Award-winning Hiking and Halacha. Rabbi Herman also serves on the Rabbinical Assembly's Conversion Commission as well as its Derech Eretz and Social Action Committees. He is a Mahloket Matters Fellow with PARDES and has previously been part of JOIN for Justice's Community Organizing Fellowship as well as the Institute for Jewish Spirituality's Clergy Leadership Program. Rabbi Herman's focus is growing the membership through outreach and relational Judaism, including creating Havurot, implementing engaging programming and enhancing the Educational and Young Family programs at Mosaic Law. Rabbi Herman earned a Bachelors Degree in History, Hebrew and Jewish Studies with Comprehensive Honors in 2005 and received Rabbinic Ordination with a Masters Degree in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2011. Rabbi Herman married Karina in June 2014, and the two of them are very excited to be living in Sacramento and in California, Karina's home state. They welcomed daughters Ariela Shira in February 2016 and Leora Rose in December 2018.
Related Topics
Related Posts