Fragments. Ugly, ugly fragments is all we seem to see.
We see fragments of homes, and villages, and cars, and people.
Fragments of trees, and the ocean floor, and trains, and families.
Fragments of hotels, and countries, and futures, and prayers.
Fragments of hope, and tomorrows, and children, and dreams.
And even within ourselves; only fragments.
Fragments of thoughts, and feelings.
Fragments of despair, and disbelief, and denial, and tears.
This is not an article. What I offer here are just fragments of thought and of raw, numb feelings jumbled together like so many fences, and boats, and panic stricken eyes suddenly set afloat in a frothing sea of horror.
Somewhere in these fragments, I believe, are fragments of our great tradition. Fragments that I pray will help some of us.
fragments of association
From time to time I'll walk by a Sbarro restaurant, and when I do, I can't help but be pulled to an association of terror. For an instant, I recall standing outside Sbarro in Jerusalem just days after it, and so many people, had been blown to pieces.
Lately I've had to travel regularly to New York. I take Amtrak to Newark and then transfer to the Path Train to Manhattan. I disembark at the last stop, in a pit, where two great towers once stood. Like millions of others, I can't help but be pulled to an association of terror.
This morning, in Starbucks, I came across a new association. The coffee of the day was Sumatra. Sumatra is as close as it gets to the epicenter of a quake that sent fifty foot high walls of water racing across the Indian Ocean at five hundred miles an hour. If such an event was recorded in the Bible, nobody would believe it. But it's on the front page of every newspaper in the world, and somehow it's still hard to believe. So whenever I see Sumatra at Starbucks, for a moment, there will be an association of terror.
fragments of mankind
It's beginning to occur to me just how insensitive I am to human suffering. If I am honest with myself, then I will have to admit that while I sobbed after Sbarro, and cried, and ached after 9/11, I feel very, very little when it comes to the masses of humanity that practically starve to death every day on this planet of ours.
My wife was crying yesterday from the images of all the dead children. I see her tears and I say to myself, how could she not cry? And then I look at myself and think, how could it be that I don't cry. I wish it weren't so, but I suspect that there are many people in this world that I do not relate to as being people in the same way that I am. I don't know how many times I have read in the Torah that God created human beings in "His Image," yet I suspect those words I believe in so deeply have made only the slightest impression. If it takes something so drastic as the mind-boggling images from Sri Lanka and Banda Aceh to get me to feel for others, one can only imagine how many others I have felt nothing for at all. I suppose, because I see them as others.
fragments of every country
The Tsunami that hit Thailand may turn out to be one of the worst natural disasters in Swedish history. Over 20,000 Swedes were on vacation in Thailand.
Tens of thousands have died in earthquakes in the last decade or so. Thirty thousand in one city in Iran. Thousands more in Turkey and Japan. Even a few in California. But this one is different, very different.
It's not only different because of how vast an area was hit, but because so many people from so many countries have been devastated. In the blink of an eye, on a picture perfect day, people from over forty countries were suddenly swept away. Nationality didn't make anyone - anyone -- less helpless or more capable of holding onto a loved one in the face of a torrent more powerful than a thousand elephants. Race, religion, and which side you were on in the civil war; none of this mattered at all. If you were human, and you were in the way, you were a marked man.
fragments of the rich and famous
We have all been struck by the fact that so many wealthy people have died in so many of the poorest countries. British actor Richard Attenborough lost a daughter and a granddaughter; like countless penniless Asians who also lost their children and grandchildren. Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is lucky to be alive. Sunbathers and body surfers from across the globe who spent more money in a day on Phuket than many people there make in a year, were yesterday tossed into the same mass graves as the women who cleaned their rooms.
This is different, very different.
fragments of history
It is also different because of the home movies. This is Zapruder writ large for all the world to see. A hundred people, with a hundred cameras caught hundreds of fragments of death and destruction. For all of us to see.
In Jewish tradition, there is a person whose presence and role spans virtually all of our history. His name is Elijah the prophet. Elijah was not only a prophet in ancient Israel, but he has a place in the life of every Jewish family. Every Jewish boy, at his brit milah, is placed on the "seat of Elijah," because Elijah is there at every circumcision. And at every Passover Seder we pour a special glass of wine, the "Cup of Elijah," because Elijah is there with us, always.
Our sages have taught that as history draws to a close, a great shofar will be sounded; and it will be Elijah himself who will blow that shofar. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a saintly scholar who lived in Israel during its formative years, wrote that the voice of Elijah's shofar can be heard in the guise of historical events. And, like the shofar that sounds in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, these events have the ability to speak to the deepest part of who we are. To stir a part of our soul that is often lost in the cacophonous din of life.
If this Tsunami was a shofar, then there is at least one word that seems to be calling out to us from its stormy voice.
What has taken place is a humanitarian crisis. What it demands is a humanitarian response, on the part of all humanity.
What does that word mean? What does it imply?
How is it supposed to shape and impact the way we think, and feel , and live, and breathe, and cry. And pray.
So much has been lost. So much needs to be repaired.
fragments of response
Perhaps a short prayer every day, at least for a week.
Perhaps doing without a pillow, for just one night.
Perhaps holding the door -- or something just as trite -- for a stranger who doesn't look like you, at all.
Perhaps cutting out a picture from the newspaper and putting it on your fridge, at least for a while.
Perhaps reading over and over the words of those people who say they have lost nothing because they haven't lost everything.
Perhaps a check to a relief agency. Perhaps a small check, every day for a month.
I don't know. Fragments is all I can come up with.
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