Start Worrying, Details to Follow

The title of this article is actually the punch line of a well-worn Jewish joke. A man gets a message from a family member with those words… “Start worrying: details to follow.” If not the quintessential statement on the Jewish condition, it’s way up there.

We are all, of course, preoccupied and justifiably worried about what is going on in Israel right now. Details are flying at us from all directions, and they more than justify the worry. Many of us, myself included, have family who are very much in harm’s way. Two of my sister’s daughters and their families live on a moshav near Yavneh, and air raid sirens are going off constantly. Day camp programs have been cancelled, parents can’t go to work, daily routines are all out of kilter, and life is very far from normal. My sister and brother-in-law live in Rehovot, which has had its own share of air raid sirens (which I remember all-too-well from the first Gulf War in 1991), and their sons live in Tel Aviv… also a frequent target now. And that’s not including family in Jerusalem, as well as friends and congregants who are visiting.

The fact of the matter is that, even without relatives and friends who are in the line of fire, there’s more than enough to be deeply worried about. This struggle between Israel and Hamas is not going to be solved by either missiles or air attacks, and the only thing that is for sure is that, no matter how it ultimately resolves, Israel will be condemned for defending itself. We have all been here before. We’ve danced this dance, and it’s never a pleasant experience.

But because life rarely affords us the opportunity to worry about just one thing at a time, my wife and I have spent the early part of this week worrying about our daughter and son-in-law who are in Okinawa, where he serves as a Navy chaplain. Even in this week that has been so saturated with news from the Middle East, there have been numerous stories about the super-typhoon that hit Okinawa and is now on its way north to mainland Japan. Torrential rain, the kind of sustained downpours that create major flooding, were accompanied by sustained winds well over 100 mph, with gusts into the 150’s and 160’s.

All of this would be well within the “start worrying, details to follow” parameters, more than enough to justify concern for our daughter and son-in-law who are very far from home, facing an epic storm. The additional wrinkle is that our daughter is just beginning the 36th week of her first pregnancy. That’s an interesting detail, isn’t it?

Interestingly, the hospital in Okinawa, which is an American military facility staffed by American doctors and nurses, has a rule that once you’re past the thirty-six week mark in a pregnancy, if there’s a typhoon that is imminently approaching, you have to report to the hospital and essentially camp out there until the storm passes. It seems that the dramatic changes in barometric pressure caused by typhoons have a nasty habit of inducing labor in late-pregnancy women, and the hospital doesn’t want to take the chance of a woman going into labor and being unable to reach the hospital. That sounds prudent to me, but I can’t imagine that being in your ninth month and then told to come to the hospital with a sleeping bag so that you can essentially camp out until the storm passes, just in case, is any too much fun.

Our daughter was just a day or two before her 36th week; she was spared the camping experience. She and our son-in-law weathered the storm in their apartment, without any damage to them or to their property. The housing for officers on this base in Okinawa is built to withstand earthquakes (there was a big one in Okinawa earlier this year), and all kinds of natural and unnatural disasters. It’s more like a bunker than an apartment house, but it’s a nice bunker, I must admit. We were as worried about their cars, which are small and very light, as we were about them; well, not quite as worried, but worried nonetheless. As it happened, no trees fell on their cars, and the cars themselves did not blow away. But the island itself sustained a great deal of damage.

My wife and I are all set to leave for Okinawa in two weeks, hopefully to greet our new grandchild. The threat posed by the typhoon was real, but it passed. The story could have turned out far worse than it did … but it didn’t. We are, to say the least, two very relieved parents.

I wish that I had any kind of feeling that the threat posed by the current war between Israel and Hamas would turn out better than I can imagine. I’m still actively worrying about that, and the details that come on a daily basis only intensify my concerns.

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.