Unbelievable: Part One: Relatively Smaller Matters


I’m not sure which disturbs me most: folks who present the news in a direct way, but try to make a profit from other peoples’ losses, folks who act as though they could not care less about their neighbors’ plights, folks who twist the facts in order to buffet their sense of personal worth, or irresponsible government officials. In the last two days, regarding both Superstorm Sandy and Operation Pillar of Cloud/Defense, I’ve, unfortunately, witnessed all of those types of human failings. I will deal with the first two sorts of these problems this week.
I. In the first case, I received, by email, a notice that a certain North American business would readily absorb the contracts for catering events whose venues had been literally flooded away by the storm’s damage. The ad made no mention of raising funds for those fellow Jewish businesses or of hiring those businesses’ now unemployed workers. There was absolutely no print, either, addressing donations that would be directly issued to stricken families. Rather, that windy piece of hopeful entrepreneurship, which arrived in my email box and likely also arrived in the email box of hundreds of thousands or of millions (who knows?) individuals, meant to fish the waters of the New York City area disaster for lucre. Ambulance chasing suddenly looked tame.
Additionally, those profiteers hit low by appealing to the most base of human qualities; vanity. Heaven forfend, the ad as much stated, if the bar, in the mitzvah celebration of some Avrammie or Sarala, could not be actualized because of the “mere” destruction of life and property. Whereas legal counsel suggests I don’t name the guilty party, I’m guessing a large per cent of this readership received that email. I hope you were offended.
I hope you complain.
Especially during a crisis, we need to maximize life and wellbeing, i.e. to ascertain whether or not our neighbors have food, water, heat, shelter, and the like, before we worry about whether or not our social affairs will fasten onto their “entitled” fifteen minutes of local celebrity. The Jewish way is not to imbibe or to enjoy dainties while others are homeless, jobless, wet, and cold, but to put our energies into helping the members of our communities attain the fundamentals. Thereafter, maybe we might make a modest party for the purpose of giving sufferers something about which to smile.
I urge anyone, whose parties were cancelled because their destinations were compromised by the abnormal weather, not to hire folks seeking to line their pockets with the sale of substitute celebrations during times of emergency, but to use the funds designated for celebrations as tzedakah money. Such a choice will teach your children far more than will an extravagant buffet or drink station. If we want the next generation to remember their life markers, let’s make sure they remember elevated choices. 
For my part, I emailed, directly, that “next best” vendor of superfluous services and asked that organization about its plans to help the stricken residents (beyond profiting from their parties) and about its plans to help the stricken businesses. What follows, verbatim, is from their reply to me. I am not sufficiently creative to have made up such an overimaginative and unrealistic response.
Our intention is to fill the void left by other catering facilities who were unfortunately affected by the storm. There are many people who had planned events that now have nowhere to turn. The contracts that we are honoring are 30-50% less than our normal pricing. We are in no way capitalizing on anyone’s misfortune and there are no additional profits from this endeavor.
Cue the violins. I see no mention of donating services to folks who have lost everything, of using profits from their additional work to help build up the communities that are currently disadvantaged, or any indication that this business cares about the welfare of its fellow Jewish caterers. Sigh.
II. Meanwhile, in The Holy Land, middot are lacking. Without going into my thoughts on foreign onlookers’ callous framing of the war, i.e. of this armed and prolonged conflict, or into my thoughts on The Modern States of Israel’s leaders (next week, in the second part of this essay I will explore those atrocities), sadly, there is plenty for me to rant about without even looking for topics outside of my apartment building.
Specifically, it’s of no utility for me or my family to leave our home and to head for our designated shelter when Code Red sounds since one set of our ever “altruistic” neighbors elected, some time after the holidays, to stuff the building’s miklat, the one meant for many families, with their furnishings.
I think I was more shocked to discover that my children and myself couldn’t enter our place of safe refuge, while the sirens sounded, because of neighbors’ selfishness, than I was that the enemy had the audacity to fire on Jerusalem. Simply, I expect an absence of cultural and civilization, i.e. a compete disregard for universally held mores, from barbarians. I had expected a lot more from Jews.
So far, our neighbors, who laugh, at my family’s faces and regard us as simpletons, as naive New Worlders, are controlling the situation. Initially, when confronted, Motzi Shabbot (the first alarm rang, in Jerusalem, last week, early on Friday evening, so we had to wait to stand our ground), they warbled some balderdash about mouse droppings and cobwebs as though naturally accrued dirt justified their parking an entire suite of furniture in our communal space and as though evidence of critters’ presence made it okay for them to have deposited various porcelain fixtures, a tower of paint cans, and other sundry items from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, in our shared chamber. 
Not only couldn’t we get into that room (friends argued, later, that we ought to have found refuge at the bottom of our stairs, as we were forced to do, given our unusable miklat, during the second Code Red), but we couldn’t access our water, canned goods, radio, batteries, and so forth, short of pitching our neighbors’ possessions out onto the street. My family does not arbitrarily act on shared or others’ goods.
Computer Cowboy, more of a peace maker/less of a zealot than me, addressed those fiends. They said they’d “think about” what to do. Last night, Wednesday, he confronted them again. This time, they sang ever so innocently about getting a good buy on furniture for their married children and needing somewhere other than our communal storage room in which to put it.
Communal storage room? That red herring sidetracked us, successfully, for half of an hour. A few calls to folks in our development revealed something never disclosed by either our lawyer or by our realtor; the space, off of our mirpesset (rooftop porch) in which we had been storing Passover dishes, the schach for our Sukkah and kindred other items IS the property of all of the apartments in our building, despite the fact that the other residents would have to traipse through our apartment to access it and despite the fact than in over six years (we rented another apartment for a while before we purchased our home) no one mentioned that they might want or could legally have access to do so.
Disconcerting, but moot. The neighbors could not have fit a sofa, a sink or any other of the current rubbish blocking us from safety into a storage room whose door requires grown folks to fold themselves in half in order to gain access.
Today, Thursday, Computer Cowboy road the range; he went door to door at the municipality. The City of Jerusalem sent that man around and around until he finally landed at the Police Department. There, my husband was told that he needed to dial a certain number, tomorrow, or, since, most likely, that office would not be open on Friday opened, then next week, on Sunday. In the interim, we lack safe space and emergency supplies because of self-interested neighbors.
I’m guessing it would surprise no readers to learn I was sick to my stomach over this entire affair. I grasp that there are those people, our historic adversaries, who mean to endanger us, has v’shalom, life and limb. I can not integrate into my psyche, however, that fellow Jews would jeer at us for objecting that their acts are literally doing the same.