Wednesday, January 19th | 18 Shevat 5782

November 2, 2012 5:29 am

Finding Our Humanity: The Calm After the Storm

avatar by Simcha Weinstein

Looking north through the entrance hall of the Apple Store, Manhattan, NYC. Photo: Marlith.

You know things are bad when a Hollywood production of the biblical story of Noah is shut down because of a flood! Having witnessed a modern day storm of biblical proportions, I fear my adopted home of New York will never be the same again. As I write this article, much of the East Coast is suffering with millions of people left without power from Maine to Virginia. Damage will run into the tens of billions of dollars, whilst the emotional and psychological suffering is beyond any price tag.

Two days after the flood, I was scheduled to plug my latest book in a CNN interview, which I was unable to cancel. Therefore, I made the schlep from my home in downtown Brooklyn to the studio in midtown Manhattan. A trip which would normally take 15 minutes on the train took two hours in the car.

It was shocking to see the National Guard on the streets of lower Manhattan in an eerie post-apocalyptic scene.  I passed through myriad traffic lights, no longer working. Every bus stop was over-crowded, and people where roaming the streets looking for fuel.

Yet in all the commotion, I was flabbergasted to see that the longest line was at the Apple Flagship Fifth Avenue store!  People lined the streets waiting to purchase a shiny new device, which will probably become obsolete in a few months, seemingly obliviously to the devastation around them.

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I am no better and have been in those lines myself many times. But something has changed. The ‘rugged individual’ has been the American ideal for centuries. This seems odd because no one could have survived alone in this strange new country hundreds of years ago. The Pilgrims and the Puritans prospered only because their tightly-knit communities ensured that neighbor looked out for neighbor.

We may not live in pioneer times anymore, but aren’t even the most flamboyant rebels among us reliant on countless faceless folks to bring us the gas (if you can find any) to fill up our Harleys–or to build those bikes in the first place?

Upon cursory examination, our independence is a seductive illusion. I have been heartened to see partisan politicians cancel rallies and work together. A city of people rushing to a morning commute has changed to people carpooling and sharing rides.

Attachment to people–interdependence–is healthy and right. However, too often we shift our attachment from other people to things like food, homes, cars, gadgets, and trinkets. The storm may wash away our possessions but not our humanity.

Simcha Weinstein is an internationally known speaker and the best-selling author. A syndicated columnist, he writes for the Jerusalem Post, JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), the Royal Shakespeare Company, Condé Nast, and many other agencies. He chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at Pratt Institute, the renowned New York art school. He was recently voted “New York’s Hippest Rabbi” by PBS affiliate Channel 13. His latest book, The Case for Children: Why Parenthood makes Your World Better debuts December 16.

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