I’m looking at a Google map that showed up on my Facebook feed. It is filled with multi-colored virtual thumbtacks on my desktop that says Hurricane Sandy Recovery — Volunteer Opportunities. The colors represent the type of help needed. Red pin: volunteer opportunities at food banks and evacuation shelters. Yellow pin: donation sites for emergency supplies and food. Teal pin: volunteer opportunities to clean up damaged neighborhoods.
Between phone calls with colleagues, photos and new reports, and live Twitter and Facebook feeds, I felt I had entered the fourth dimension and was personally in the heart of Sandy’s path as it thundered up the coast and pounded the northeast.
But I wasn’t. I am based in Seattle and by next week I suspect my Twitter and Facebook feeds will return to their normal rhythms of witty comments, and photos of smiling people and cats (being a dog owner, something I just can’t understand). And that is the challenge all of us not living in a flooded neighborhood without power or fresh water face — those of us who are not face with children’s or simple questions of “why?” and “what’s next?” Those of us not forced to look at destroyed neighborhoods and needing to answer the same questions for ourselves. Very quickly, as if having passed an accident on the highway that makes us pause our conversation and shutter, we will, as we must, continue along down the road of our lives.
But we can’t just keep driving along. Commandedness — the demand of a response both as an individual and as a community — is one of the most powerful ideas the Jewish tradition has brought into the world. A felt obligation to pull off the road and to not keep driving. The acceptance that no matter who I am or where I am, I can’t be a bystander. A response is obligated by nature of the skills, talents and gifts I’ve been given; we as a community have been given; we as a country have been given.
And yet, I suspect those colored thumbtacks on Google will increase like a visual manifestation of urgent need. In fact, the truth is the world is populated with multi-colored thumbtacks, but unless the disaster is so merciless and the photos so compelling to activate our fascination with abomination we will never react to them. Most of us will never bother to look. And that is, as it always has been, our challenge. For us not in the recovery zone the question isn’t “why,” but what are we going to do about it? Not just today but always.