It has been a long week since the last update. It certainly feels like we are in another year…
During hurricane Maria the AT&T towers in PR were damaged and the more reliable provider was out on most of the island. Yesterday signal strengthened.
We have no words to express our thanks for all the private messages, support and concern. B”H, other than flooding, losing another new AC unit, freezer, and chairs, our home did much better than during hurricane Irma.
Maria brought a lot more water than Irma and was excruciatingly difficult for islanders with damaged homes. Some, particularly friends who live on the north side, reported Maria being more difficult than Irma.
On Sunday Henya and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Ralph Evert’s tragic passing. He was killed after a mudslide buried his home. We Bar Mitzvah’d Ralph and Julie’s wonderful son Charlie a few years ago, and are filled with pain for them and their loved ones. May he rest in peace.
A 24 hour curfew was in effect for the first day of Rosh Hashana to allow clearing of the roads and put safety precautions in place to protect from the mud slides.
Rosh Hashana without Henya and the kids was a difficult first. Fortunately, members of the community moved in for Yom Tov and a constant flow of visitors who joined to pray, hear Shofar and enjoy the food on hand was cheering. (Much of the prepared kosher food did not make it to STT thanks to a 4:30am no-show by the security guard scheduled to open the freezers of an apartment building in FL the morning of the flight, but that’s for another time…)
Many of the familiar prayers had new breadth, depth and dimension… The contrasting of the eternal and Almighty king with human frailty, the limited human capacity to understand the ways of G-d, the fate of countries, life’s unpredictability, the determination and unyielding optimism of our ancestors in the face of challenge and setback etc…
On the second day, after services, myself and two friends ventured out to blow Shofar for Jewish neighbors. It was very meaningful and emotional. In every home the words “May the fountain of my eyelids, flowing as a stream, be accepted before you” weren’t just poetic… I brought a machzor along so we could recite together some of the prayers…
At one point we made it to the entrance of the Ritz Carlton hotel. Ordinarily, the calm ambiance, white sand beach and elegant architecture would make for a few blissful Jews happy to hear the Shofar. Now, the place felt desolate and ruined.
I approached the US Marines who had barricaded the entrance and asked if any of their comrades were celebrating the Jewish New Year. “Yes, there are two of us who are! last night Noah was telling our whole group about the Jewish Rosh Hashana while we were all going to sleep”. Unbelievable, I thought to myself, the spirit of our people… V’Chol ma’aminim… The depth of Jewish faith in the literal darkest of nights…
The two marines were in complete disbelief when they saw us “Hashem has remembered me on this day!” one exclaimed. I went on to explain the theme of Zichronos – “Who is not recalled on this day? For the remembrance of every created being comes before you”, how NOTHING AND NOBODY are forgotten by G-d.
A group of non Jewish soldiers assembled around us. I then explained the significance of the simple, honest, primal cry of the Shofar and how it pierces the heavens. A few of them were from Puerto Rico and had not yet heard word from family. We said a prayer for their loved ones. You can sense how deeply moved everyone was. Hearing Noah chant the blessing Lishmoah Kol Shofar and Shehechiyanu in that “still soft voice” was a moment I will never forget. A moment I never imagined in a place known to be the epitome of pleasure and relaxation.
Walking back up the hill – newly Bar mitzvah’d Sorin Gibbs (one of the few family employees staying at the hotel) shouted out to us from a balcony. While continuing the walk up hill I must of blown the Shofar for him and his family loud enough to be heard in S. John…
We made it back home with a few minutes before Shabbos and enough time to pray the final prayer of the new year…
I must confess… Many of the prayers talk about the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Many of the prayers talk about the gathering of the dispersed. I couldn’t help but think about the island and all our dear friends who have temporarily left but whose souls are here.
I prayed for the broken hearts in our community, for the mental and emotional well being of those who are suffering, for our healing. I prayed for peace and security.
I prayed that G-d give us strength to get through these challenging times. I prayed that from the narrowness of the Shofar’s mouth blast forth expanse and plentiful in the coming year and beyond. I prayed for the strength of our community and that the Virgin Islands be restored to its full beauty and charm!
I prayed that G-d give me strength, health, resources, wisdom and courage to grow and be there for others.
And I prayed… And I prayed… together with Henya 1,400 miles close… We prayed… that “G-d who sees on this day from one end of the world to the other, from the beginning of generations to the end” bless us to merit children and grandchildren, to the end of generations, who will follow in the Rebbe’s ways and one day join us in serving and adding yiddishe warmth to our beloved Virgin Islands communities until the coming of Moshiach.
Yesterday, another container filled with aid, food and supplies arrived. Today we will be distributing it with the family resource center in S. Thomas and are working on transportation to get a good portion to those who need it in S. John.
Berel, Mendel, myself, and other volunteers have been driving around specific neighborhoods distributing meals and supplies in conjunction with government officials and other helpful agencies.
Please G-d, the lieutenant governor will give the Jewish community a pass on curfew Friday evening for Kol Nidrei. Myself and Rabbi Michael Feshbach have reached out and are awaiting his response.
Thank you again for all of your help during this trying time. Your support and friendship means the world to us. We are overwhelmed by your care, concern and partnership.
If there was ever a time we could use help and support it is now! We have a long road ahead.
Please consider us in your pre Yom Kippur contributions. Please share with friends who can help. You can donate online at www.JewishVirginIslands.com/Donate
May you and yours be written and inscribed in the book of life for a sweet, healthy and prosperous year!
Rabbi Asher Federman
In better times..