In the days since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the reaction from the rest of the country has been a mixture of shock, horror and anger at the level of devastation and the plight of many of the victims.
But along with the inevitable recriminations about the effectiveness of the nation's response to the scope of the problem came a willingness to pitch in and help that is truly heartening.
Aiding the hurricane refugees has become a national project, but it's important to highlight the fact that our own local community has begun to do its part. Just as the city of Philadelphia is taking in a portion of those who've fled the devastation, so too, has Philadelphia Jewry adopted Gulf Coast synagogues and their families. But our obligation is not simply to help displaced Jews, but to bring some relief to all of the victims – young, old and in between.
The operative word here is "obligation." If the pictures of those who have been left homeless, jobless and penniless by the hurricane are not enough to jog our consciences, then nothing will. We do so not just as Jews motivated by the teachings of Torah and a heritage of tzedekah, but also as Americans who cannot stand by while our fellow citizens remain in need.
While there are a number of effective ways to send aid to the victims, the Hurricane Relief Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is accepting contributions to be used for humanitarian relief and long-term rebuilding efforts for members of the general and Jewish communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It will also help support displaced families and individuals.
The lesson here is plain. The bottom line of any life guided by ethics and values is what you are personally willing to do to help those who require assistance. For us, as a Jewish community, there's no hesitation in stating that we're willing to do whatever we can. The time is now for synagogues and organizations to join forces to make sure that we're doing all that is possible to heal the wounds of the afflicted.
A High-Pressure Forecast
Along with the rest of the world, Israelis have been transfixed by the horror caused by Hurricane Katrina, and have offered their own expertise and equipment in aiding disaster victims to the United States. But the truth is, the Jewish state is still reeling from the aftershocks caused by the country's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Disengagement may have been favored by a majority of Israelis and be a good thing for the country in the long term, but for now, the move may have shortened the life of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government.
Unfortunately, statements from Washington about what it expects Israel to do in the future have been ambiguous at best. And that has only encouraged Palestinians to expect more drastic Israeli concessions.
However, the one factor that might actually generate other moves by the Israelis is sorely lacking: action by the Palestinian Authority against terror groups (including those on its own payroll), which continue to threaten Jewish lives. Until such action is taken, the notion that Israel has any duty to make more concessions is merely absurd.
The response to this must be clear: Unless and until the Palestinians disband their terrorists, U.S. pressure of any kind to produce more Israeli pullbacks should remain off the table.