Middle Israel: Woman of the year

Our woman of the year is neither the gallant police officer who risks her life waging a selfless war on drug dealers, nor the underpaid teacher who sp

Our woman of the year is neither the gallant police officer who risks her life waging a selfless war on drug dealers, nor the underpaid teacher who spent years educating the generations of the future until her unceremonious dismissal. Nor is our woman of the year a slick, well-tailored cabinet minister who has channeled billions of taxpayer shekels from here to there (or was it from there to here). Our woman of the year is also not the self-made banker who has conquered a seat of honor in the thick of what had for centuries been a bastion of males and chauvinism. Our woman of the year is also neither she who came out of the woodwork to accuse generals, politicians, actors and other men of power of having desecrated her body, nor the silent victim of trafficking who may right now be being smuggled across the Sinai. Our woman of the year is not even the one who contained her anger as she saw the house in which she bore and raised her children demolished, and the place where she prayed for decades ransacked, stormed and burned down; neither is she the equally traumatized soldier who carried her and her family away from their home with resolve and humility. Rather, our woman of the year is the matron of all the Katrinas, Ritas, Carlas, Alicias, Claudettes and the rest of the deceptively feminine names with which meteorologists call Mother Nature's unruly daughters, she who nonchalantly and indiscriminately whisks in the air, tosses ashore and drowns undersea the old, the young, and even the newly born as she lays entire communities to waste. Between the Asian tsunamis early in the Jewish year, and the American hurricanes with which she concluded it, Mother Nature made it plain that as far as she is concerned, in 5765 mankind was less worthy of the parted Red Sea, and more of Noah's Flood. Faced with this, many were tempted to suggest why Mother Nature did what she did, why God stood by and why mankind so colossally failed to brace for her wrath and weather her storms. Here in the Jewish state, one rabbi said the Asian calamity stemmed from the gentiles' effort to wrest from the Jews a swath of the Holy Land, conveniently ignoring the fact that most of the Indians, Thais, Indonesians, Sri Lankans and Somalis who lost their lives in that disaster had never in their lives even heard of Gush Katif. And having gotten word of the catastrophe in New Orleans, another rabbi confidently said the victims there were condemned to drown because of their failure to study Torah. IN AMERICA, arch-conservatives said their country was being punished for its numerous abortions. Liberals, equally confident though their ties upstairs might be weaker, related the storms to heavy industry's provocation of the atmosphere, and corporate America's ongoing hammering at strong government. Back in Asia people said a lot less, reflecting a cultural reluctance to explain, let alone combat, what is ostensibly better accepted fatalistically. For their part, as Jews the world over tomorrow consider God's annual dilemma over "who will live and who will die, who is at his end and who is not, who in water and who in fire," they will for the first time in half-a-decade think less of the terror that victimized thousands of Israelis, and more of Mother Nature's fury; of the ease, frequency and viciousness with which tempest has this year battered so many innocent Americans and Asians, how it lifted in the air and banged to the ground houses in which people had invested decades of honest work; how it erased whole villages of destitute fishermen; and how it made a mockery of the very institution of human government on God's earth. So fiercely did Mother Nature attack this year that some recalled how previous disasters most notably the earthquakes of 1988 in Soviet Armenia and of 1976 in Tangshan, several months before Mao Zedong's death eventually proved to have signaled the demise of mighty empires. There is something practical about this kind of steering the thought process away from Mother Nature's "why" to her "what" and "how." Who better than we Jews should know that explaining why bad things happen to good people can only be as convincing as the attempt to blame a clearly pious Job for his sudden loss of his wealth, family and health. To those, we can only say what God Himself told Job out of the tempest: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Speak if you have understanding. Do you know who fixed its dimensions, or who measured it with a line? Onto what were its bases sunk? Who set its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together, and all the divine beings shouted for joy? Who closed the sea behind doors, when it gushed forth out of the womb, when I clothed it in clouds, swaddled it in dense clouds, when I made breakers my limit to it, and set up its bar and doors, and said: 'You may come so far and no farther, here you surging waves will stop'?" True, mankind cannot probe Mother Nature's reasons for repeatedly attacking it, yet mankind should scrutinize its own attitude toward natural disaster. THE YEAR'S calamities highlighted two opposing historic attitudes. In Asia, a fatalistic resignation to nature's unpredictability has made citizens and governments fail to do anything before, during and sometimes even after calamity struck. In America, at the same time, a New World arrogance has bred a civilization that not only does not submit to nature's limitations, it defies them. Historian Daniel Boorstin wrote that the proliferation of skyscrapers across the US was part of "a latter-day American boosterism, a determination to compete with Mother Nature herself, to win over the limitations of matter, and space, and seasons." Indeed, Americans watching Asian helplessness in the face of natural disasters are astonished by the failure to suspect nature. Americans, when suspending massive bridges over gushing rivers, building skyscrapers in seismological traps like San Francisco or digging a railroad tunnel under seawater, did so while suspecting, fooling and undercutting nature. Yet the more they did that for instance in building a metropolis beneath the level of a nearby seashore the more they grew disrespectful of nature's vigor and resolve. In 5765 more Asians have learned to suspect Mother Nature, and more Americans to respect it. Will that satisfy her for 5766, and if not that, then maybe her crowning as Woman of 5765?