New Orleanians and our proud neighbors, we salute you! Your human grandeur and your decency, your character and your faithful perseverance have far surpassed the example of those upon whom we all counted to be our leaders. All in all, few of us have been other than stalwart and people of integrity.
In the wake of Katrina, the ongoing religious question has not been “Why” but “What shall we do?” And in churches, synagogues and mosques, along with fervent prayers for the victims, the injured and the bereaved, the response has been one of heroic labor, and generous relief and determined future.
Many of the faithful still wonder, “Why, dear God?” But really, isn’t the only worthy response to that question the summons to embrace our duty:
… to help the afflicted
… to comfort the heartsick
… to heal the injured
… and to bring hope to those who have lost their way in the world.
In that way, we will, as the Prophet Isaiah puts it, become “the rebuilders of the ruins, the restorers of paths to dwell in.”
The Chasidic Sage of the 18th Century, Rabbi Israel of Rishem, reminds us that life really comes down to a continual search for a nightlight that will not fail. Rabbi Israel tells the story of a traveler who loses his way in the forest. It is dark and, naturally, he is afraid. He senses danger behind every tree. A storm shatters the silence, but when it does, says the sage:
The fool among us can see nothing but the
lightning. However, the wise one notes
carefully not the lightning but the road
that now lies illuminated before him.
We see that road. Not only that, we are well along the way toward a better New Orleans for all of her proud and beautiful people.
Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn
Congregation Temple Sinai
August 20, 2009