Thursday, April 9, 2015

Around the World and at Home - Omer Day 5

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

In some parts of the world, whole nations are at risk of disappearing beneath the rising seas. In the words of Jetnil Kijiner, the 26-yr-old poet from the Marshall Islands, speaking before the U.N. last fall, “We’ve seen waves crashing into our homes and our breadfruit trees wither from salt and droughts. We look at our children and wonder how they will know themselves or their culture should they lose our islands.”

But the Marshall Islands are small and far away, and few if any of us know anyone living in there. We can read and hear her words, but we don't really understand how she is feeling.

Hurricane Sandy was closer to home. During this massive storm, 285 people died. Sixty-two billion dollars in damage occurred in the United States and another 300 million in the Caribbean. Many of us know someone impacted in some way by Hurricane Sandy. The story is told fully and completely by Kathryn Miles in Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, but even just a few sentences are chilling: "A woman in Toronto was killed when a large illuminated sign pulled from its supports, then plummeted thirty feet to the ground. An eight-year-old Pennsylvania boy died when a tree fell in his Franklin Township yard. Not long after, an enormous oak fell through a home in North Salem, New York, crushing two best friends, ages eleven and thirteen, but leaving the rest of the home’s occupants unharmed." 

With Hurricane Sandy, we may very well know someone whose home was destroyed, or who was injured or even killed.

But impacts of climate change are even closer to home. All of us in Eastern Massachusetts experienced the snowiest winter on record. The Washington Post quotes Penn State climate researcher Michael Mann, “There is [a] direct relationship between the surface warmth of the ocean and the amount of moisture in the air. What that means is that this storm will be feeding off these very warm seas, producing very large amounts of snow as spiraling winds of the storm squeeze that moisture out of the air, cool it, and deposit it as snow inland.” In other words, warmer oceans mean snowier winters, and yes, climate change has something to do with all the snow we got.

Getting to work this winter was a daily time consuming, frustrating, and potentially very expensive endeavor. People couldn't get to work. Some roofs caved in. Homes suffered water damage. Some of us suffered more than others, and some of us managed more easily than others, but all of us know someone who was impacted directly and significantly, and the most vulnerable among us were the most affected.

A young woman, fragile emotionally, physically, and financially, took a cab to get to work at a retail store one snowy day, spending about $50. An hour after she arrived, the store closed due to lack of customers. She lost her day's wages and had to take a cab to get home, too.

A young man with many health issues and struggling with addiction, couldn't get out of his home to get his medications, didn't realize how important they were, and ended up back in the hospital.

These are two small vignettes. The stories around the world are many and varied.

Change change is happening to the whole planet. It is in many ways impersonal, on the news. But it is also very, very personal; it is about our homes, our lives, our families, our livelihoods, our friends, for us, for our neighbors, for all of Earth's inhabitants. 

It is also about how we handle it.

We are all in this together .

Today is the fifth day of the Omer.
Today is the fifth day of the journey from bondage to revelation.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is a co-convener and coordinator of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network.

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