Some things pass. Others last forever.
The outpouring of volunteer efforts and generosity in our community--devoted toward caring for others--has been spectacular. The superlative form in diction was created for moments like this.
Without ever really knowing how to do something like this, the CBE community has fed thousands of people in the past week, providing basic human needs like water, clothing, shelter and love; and by yesterday afternoon we were able to mobilize doctors and other medical professionals to visit the elderly in Coney Island and the Rockaways who were stranded in dark, cold, waste-filled apartments, in need of care and medicine. By late yesterday afternoon, we had three restaurants calling us, ready to dispatch warm meals of 200 servings each, to distressed areas of Brooklyn and Queens.
In the past week, when we've asked (and even when we haven't) no single individual has hesitated to help. And especially for those who make the trips out to devastated areas, there is a corridor of experience they pass through that changes their perspective on things. The enormity of the damage becomes clear. Its long-lasting effects are made known. This is not a "one-off."
And so one concludes: the human capacity for "response to need" is like what the Sages said about responding to a commandment: מצוה גוררת מצוה--One commandment drives the performance of another commandment. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah.
This is fundamentally true. And it means that our efforts to save human lives, to erase somewhat the false distinctions that separate one from another and to be acutely aware of what binds us to one another, is to understand that the caring for and feeding of others is not temporary but permanent.
We've spent the past seven years at CBE taking steps to repair our roofs and windows. In 2006 and 2007, we spent nearly $1 million in our building fund--the total amount there--to repair the Temple House roof. And over the past year and a half, we've raised nearly $3 million to repair the Main Sanctuary Roof and Stained Glass windows (including the $250,000 we received from American Expreess for our Partners in Preservation award, where we shared the top prize with our neighbors at the Brooklyn Public Library.)
We're dry. And grateful. And blessed to be dry. Because it allows us to focus and galvanize our efforts on caring for others. That's the point of taking care of yourself. It's not to sit back under a tree, a blade of grass between the teeth, contemplating a soft breeze (thought that sounds good, actually); it's to see others in ourselves, to be repaired and repair in turn.
When I came to CBE in 2006, I set as a quiet personal goal the establishment of a permanent feeding program to be run from CBE. A kitchen of our size; a need to solve hunger that is even greater; a borough that loves food; and a population of willing volunteers to cook and serve to those in need were all the right ingredients for a great project. And what the uncommonly generous Rozanne Gold and Michael Whiteman and Mark Federman showed us in helping us conceive of feeding thousands this past week is that anything is possible--certainly establishing a feeding program for a mere few hundred a day. As we now know, that's just a few hours' work!
It's going to make getting the green energy car with the CBE logo for food delivery that much better. Hey, I'm turning 50 this year. Aren't I supposed to have a mid-life crisis and get a car?
Yesterday afternoon, in the midst of it all, a community leader called with great news: a pledge of $25,000 toward our efforts at helping those in need. What would you use it toward, he asked. Feeding people, I answered.
And away we go.