“Who By Water and Who By Fire” Lessons from Hurricane Irma for the New Year


I was glued to the news.

Despite living thousands of miles away, in a country that has not seen a drop of rain in months, Hurricane Irma was terrifying.

Meteorologists, newscasters, and politicians forecasted that the “eye of the storm” was headed for home: to my family’s house, my elementary school, the local pizza store, (my) Aventura Mall, the shuls, the hospitals.

Personal tension eased with the news that my father had evacuated and landed safely in JFK.


You could hear the tension in his voice. You could hear it in the meteorologist’s and politician’s voices.

Despite expert advice, government planning, and personal organization, there was nothing to do but wait.

There was nothing stopping the storm.


The position of the sun, last Friday, dictated that I turn off my phone. My connection with the outside world and 24-hour expert coverage of Hurricane Irma was severed.

I lit the Shabbat candles and welcomed the Sabbath Queen into our home.

Upon blessing my children and ushering (most) of them out the door, I felt the stillness of the moment.

No buzz of the news with hurricane experts analyzing maps and pointing out the different destructive paths of the storm, no gusts of the wind in the background, no newscaster standing on stranded beaches, no cars honking on the Florida Highway.


For the last week, collectively, we had listened and followed the advice and warnings of the experts. Florida residents had boarded up their houses. Some evacuated, some prepared their homes for the storm. We had followed the prescription and now Shabbat dictated that we silence the outside world and reunite with Our Creator.

I prayed that the experts were wrong, that their predictions did not come true. I prayed that the storm would be downgraded. I prayed that we would all laugh at the “hype”. I prayed for personal clarity to have faith in the master plan.

>Eye of the Storm

After blowing out the Havdalah candle, I rushed to find out the latest news.

What had we missed?

The news had changed. The coordinates of the storm predicted by the experts had changed.

The “eye of the storm” was no longer headed directly to South Florida. Instead, Hurricane Irma was pushing into parts of Central Florida.

What? People had been told to evacuate to Central Florida! They were not prepared for this!


Punched in the Face

As the storm grew closer, the experts expressed worry and fear; the next 24 hours loomed. Central Florida quickly mobilized for the storm. Fresh plans were made, supplies were distributed and new shelters were opened.

The morning press conferences were filled with the anxious faces of local politicians.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa said at a news conference, paraphrasing Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face… Well, we are about to get punched in the face”

Florida Governor Rick Scott told Fox News Sunday “Pray, pray for everybody in Florida”

Job’s Punches

Jews are no strangers to “punches”.

The Bible is filled with stories of human suffering and unexpected sorrow.

Most famous is the Book of Job, which chronicles the unfolding and unexplainable “punches” that befell the tragic Job.

Verses are filled with Job’s stoicism in the face of intense suffering.

Finally, in Chapter 38 of Job, a frustrated Job stands up and confronts G-d,


G-d replies to Job from the storm,

“He tells him to look at Creation and asks rhetorically: Who laid the foundations of the Earth? Who created the oceans? Who causes the sun to rise in the morning? And who is the father of rain?”

G-d instructs Job to surrender to the storm. Yes, consult with experts, follow their instructions, prepare yourself for the storm, but after you have done all that you can, recognize your helplessness, and have faith in G-d.

Metaphorically, the storm represents the inability for a man to understand the inner workings of the universe. G-d manifests himself to Job and explains that there is a method to all the madness in this world.

How to Survive A Storm Headed For You?

Besides purchasing hurricane insurance, a strong message can be learned from the chaos of Hurricane Irma.

#1 Accept

When faced with the enormity of Hurricane Irma, public officials and citizens were challenged to accept the limitations of their own humanity. To help save lives, the most brilliant minds researched, studied weather patterns, tried to offer insights, made predictions, issued warnings and organized plans.

Then we accepted the fact that ultimately we did not know what the storm would bring.

#2 Pray

Stranded at the airport, Leila Traversoni of Argentina said, “We are really, really terrified because we don’t know what to do, where to go — just praying at this point.”

Many churches and other groups heeded the “Code Red” call for prayer and protection against Hurricane Irma at the Jacksonville Beach Pier.

#3 Offer and Accept Help

Responding to complaints about price gouging, Florida Attorney General Bondi said,

“7-Eleven, come on. This isn’t the time to make a buck, this is the time to help your fellow citizens,”

Governor Rick Scott added

“This is the time to help our neighbors. This is not the time to take advantage of our neighbors.”

In the spirit, the state waived tolls on the highways and distributed free supplies.

To help with the evacuations, Airbnb’s “disaster response program” for hosts to provide temporary housing to evacuees.

Another shining example was the Jewish community of Atlanta that invited and hosted several hundred South Florida families.

#4 Return

With the passing of the storm and the disaster cleanup in the process, Floridians have begun to return, assess the damages and begin to rebuild their lives.

“Who By Water, and Who By Fire”

Stormy weather is unpredictable. The “punch” of the storm highlights the fragility of life.

Hurricane Irma showed us that while we are mandated to actively prepare for storms by following the advice of experts. At a certain point, we must recognize our humanity, relinquish control and surrender to G-d.

The Rosh Hashanah service relates this message. The liturgy reflects on both past national “punches” as well as the agonizing examples of personal “punches”.


Hear the voice of G-d calling out to Job from the storm.

Hear the voice of G-d calling for Abraham.

Hear the voice of G-d calling for You.

We cannot predict the future. We do not know the happiness nor the “punches” this new year will bring.

“Let us know relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening… On Rosh Hashanah will it be inscribed and on Yom Kippur, it will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die;

“Who by water? Who by fire?… Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched and who will be degraded and who will be exalted”

We can strengthen our relationship with G-d.

We can reflect and improve our behavior through teshuva (repentance). We can deepen our relationship with G-d through prayer. We can help others by giving charity.

May we all merit inscription in the Book of Life.

Yocheved Pianko Feinerman is “leaning in” and embracing the harmony and chaos of raising four “spirited” children, juggling an active career as an educator, and writer while planning the next 24-hour getaway with her husband. Read more on her blog Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

About the Author
Yocheved Pianko Feinerman is a filmmaker based in Reut, Israel. Yocheved is currently a full-time student at Ma’ale School of Film and Television and is set to graduate in late 2024. Pianko- Feinerman directed several short films, most notably, Hold the Ball in 2021, selected by several International Film Festivals, nominated for Best Female Director Short, and winner of Best Weird/ WTF Film in the June 2022 Cannes World Film Festival. As a kid, Yocheved enjoyed directing her four younger siblings and has been hooked ever since. Her dream is to engage audiences #herstories #ourstories. Yocheved is currently building her body of work as a writer and director with material curated (directly and indirectly) from her primary role as High Energy Mom to four spirited children, an active Labradoodle, and a wife to a very normal husband.
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