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Sunday, October 28, 2007

A rabbi joins firefighters

What do firemen and rabbis have in common? They both put out fires.
The wildfires make me wonder what God is up to. What message can he be conveying and what lesson can be learned? One thing I know for sure is that it is the clergyman's job to do and not ask. As one rabbi put it, "We only work here, we don't make the catastrophes."
Amid the sorrow and hardship the world continues to turn. The World Series begins and the Boston Red Sox win the first game. It was the most exciting game in the 104-year history of the World Series. China embarks on a 10-year moon exploration program and launches its first lunar probe. A powerful earthquake rocks western Indonesia, sending panicked residents fleeing from their homes and briefly triggering a tsunami warning. In Cape Canaveral, the shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven went into orbit to do extensive work on the space station.
While here in California the only comforting words from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff while addressing a crowd was, "Take a moment to hug and kiss your loved ones. Everything else can be replaced." How condescending and inconsiderate are his sentiments? Imagine telling 500,000 people to kiss and make up, as if the trauma will just disappear along with the smoke and fire. Chertoff's statement is childish and totally out of character.
Meanwhile, in hard-hit Running Springs, the clergy have stepped up to the plate. There the fire erupted with a fierce vengeance, burning homes and businesses and leaving chaos, destruction and despair. Residents were evacuated and the brave firemen and sheriffs deputies are busy coordinating firefighting crews to save as much as possible. We wonder where they can find a place to rest their weary bodies, or for that matter, where can they get hot coffee or fresh food? Last but not least, where does the water come from to fight the fires?
At Kiryas Schneerson in Running Springs, Rabbi Yosef Brod made a decision. He was going to stay at the center , named after the Chabad leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson . Kiryas Schneerson has become a salvation and sanctuary for the brave firefighters and officers. Kiryas Schneerson was surrounded by fire and yet the rabbi persists, serving meals and drinks. He mans a 24-hour generator, fills the swimming pool with well water, and signals the helicopters to pick up and replenish their water supply. Kiryas Schneerson has become a sanctuary for survival, a temporary home for firefighters. It would seem that this marriage of firemen and clergy would not work, as firemen work for the physical and the clergy for the spiritual, but miraculously the center remains open and offers a place to eat and rest. The harmony of physical and spiritual meet and coalesce, members of all religions working together to save homes.
More rabbis drove up the mountain to help and support Rabbi Brod in his most extraordinary and brave work. Tragedies bring misery and at times bring out the best in people. At this time of overwhelming tragedies we must reach out and touch somebody by extending time, effort and spiritual support. The best thing we can do is be positive and charitable.
We salute all the brave people involved but most of all, we pray for the welfare of all our citizens of this wonderful state.
The motto of our country is "In God we trust." It is the job of clergymen to help that trust be realized.
Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.

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