Shaarei Shamayim

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All of us are terribly saddened over the horrible destruction wrought by superstorm—or should I say Frankenstorm— Sandy this week. Although the storm 1st hit New Jersey on Monday night, still today millions are without power. Most of us have family and friends who have been affected. Thank Gd my family is safe, but I have friends and colleagues that have been devastated. Jews have died, Synagogues and homes have been severely damaged or destroyed. “It’s like a war zone,” said Rabbi Akiva Eisenstadt, surveying the damage in Brooklyn’s Manhattan Beach. “It’s beyond anything anyone has ever seen.”

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Miller from Long Island sent me the following email yesterday: “
I hope everyone is well and coping. Just an update: my house suffered catastrophic damage, including structural cracks to the foundation, roof collapse, and the loss of my entire library, photos, and 3 rooms of furniture and other stuff. Oh, and 5ft. of sewage. We also lost 2 cars.”


Can you imagine? Can you begin to imagine? I grew up in New York and in my lifetime the Northeast has not ever experienced anything remotely approaching this catastrophe. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those individuals and communities that have been affected by the storm. After watching a whole neighborhood in Queens, NY, go up in flames, I thought of the flood of Noah we read about in the synagogue 2 weeks ago and the destructive fires of Sodom and Gomorrah in this week’s Torah portion combined for the conflagration of our time.


When natural disasters like this would occur in the world my mother, a”h, would always say, “Gd is angry!” Is Gd angry with us? The question if further amplified if one asks: Is it just a coincidence that the most extensive storm system in years struck the most heavily populated part of the country, including Washington DC, just a week before the Presidential election? Is it just a coincidence that it made landfall at exactly high tide on a full moon when tides are at their maximum and converged with a cold weather system that increased its intensity?


So is this disaster such a sign of Gd’s anger? Well there certainly are those who think so. Rabbi Noson Leiter of Torah Jews for Decency, for example, called the superstorm “divine justice” for New York’s same-sex marriage legislation, alluding to lower Manhattan as one of the nation’s “centers of homosexuality.” Chiming in was evangelist preacher John McTernan who said that we got hit with Sandy because both Obama and Romney are pro-gay. 


In,7340,L-3488497,00.html href=",7340,L-3488497,00.html" target=_blank>,7340,L-3488497,00.html>Egypt, hard-line cleric Wagdi Ghoneim tweeted twice this week in the aftermath of the storm: “In my opinion, it is revenge from Gd for the beloved prophet,” alluding to the anti-Islam film made in the US that sparked waves of,7340,L-4280465,00.html href=",7340,L-4280465,00.html" target=_blank>,7340,L-4280465,00.html>protests in the Muslim world in September.


Is Frankenstorm Sandy a sign from Gd? Is Gd angry with us? We don’t blame natural disasters on anyone; yet, as Jews, we still seek to find meaning in what has happened. What lessons will we learn from Sandy? What messages do its furious winds bring us? The 1st time man experiences wind the Torah tells us: “They heard Gd’s voice moving about in the garden (of Eden) with the wind of the day. Adam and his wife hid themselves from Gd among the trees of the garden. Gd called to Adam and said: ‘Where are you?’” Perhaps the storm is meant for all of us to give pause and ask ourselves as well, “Where am I?” What am I doing with my life? What changes do I need to make to get closer to Gd who rules over nature?


Are the ravages of the storm meant to humbly remind us—right at the end of a billion dollar Presidential campaign—Who is really in charge? Or is this all a harbinger of the wind and spirit—the Hebrew ruach means both wind and spirit—of the coming of Mashiach, the Messiah. And just as Abraham was tested in the parsha with the sacrifice of Isaac to see if he was worthy, are we being tested as to whether we are worthy of the coming of Mashiach?


Perhaps, but far be it for me or you or anyone else to say definitively what the message is. Perhaps it’s just one of the cycles of a nature—a storm that happens every 150 years or so. What we do know is that people need our help. The Jewish Federation of Atlanta has set up an emergency fund through Jewish Federations of North America on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Sandy. You can find the link in my Friday email.


As the Northeast gets back to life, we have to go one with our lives and this week is another monumental event for our country—the presidential election. So much is at stake for us, our country and even for Israel. Another colleague, Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky of Phoenix, AZ, wrote a little piece for an adult education program called, “Is God a Democrat or a Republican.” Let me share it with you:

I think it’s fair to say that since Gd is Divine and not human, and because we are taught that we should not attribute Gd with human characteristics, the very question “Is Gd a Democrat or a Republican” is a ridiculous question—so allow me to offer a ridiculous response.

First, I heard that Gd had an interesting summer at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The Republicans invoked his name twelve times in their platform (one for each of the tribes of Israel) while the Democrats attempted to remove His name from their platform altogether. To their credit, they were in favor of Gd before they were against him. And yes, it appears that President Obama did everything he could to change that platform by reinstating Gd as well as reference to Jerusalem, Gd’s footstool on earth. Indeed Gd was returned to his throne and Jerusalem was saved too—thanks to 3 bogus votes which obviously went the other way. The chair courageously took the prerogative of ignoring the democratic process and declared Gd and Jerusalem the winners so as not to offend the diminishing numbers of people of faith and supporters of Israel in the Democratic Party. 

            And then, of course, there is the flip side. Those rich, heartless, one-percenter Republicans will pose a serious risk if God forbid Mitt Romney wins the election. A good Jewish boy from Congregation MSNBC, Jonathan Alter, just alluded to the cataclysm that would befall America if he wins. If Obama is defeated “Not only will people DIE (because of the repeal of Obamacare), but worse, President Obama, the first African American President, an historic figure would be humiliated.” I infer from this that political correctness trumps competence and results.

            Futhermore, because Mitt Romney would supposedly provide greater moral support to Israel, he would destroy any prospects of peace with the Palestinians, because Israel wouldn’t feel pressured to make further territorial concessions to people who vow to destroy her. Mitt Romney’s affinity to Israel could very possibly destroy Gd’s footstool—Jerusalem!

And just to keep the traditional Jewish support for Democrats in context, and our people have been voting for Democrats ever since the Babylonian exile, there was an ingenious man, Jonathan Wolfman who crafted a list of “My Yiddish Curse on Jewish Republicans” which prescribes curses on any Jew who dares to cross over to the dark side and vote for the G.O.P.  Here is a sampling of those curses:

May you grow so rich that your widow’s second husband is thrilled they repealed the estate tax.

            May you have a rare disease and need an operation that only one surgeon in the whole world, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, is able to perform. And may she be unable to perform your operation because she doesn’t take your insurance. And may that Nobel Laureate be your daughter!

            …May G-d give you a daughter-in-law who is as kind as she is beautiful, as patient as she is rich, as wise as she is devoted, a virtuous woman in every way. And then may a ballot initiative invalidate her marriage to your daughter.

            May your grandchildren baptize you as a Mormon after you’re dead!

            May your state outlaw the morning-after pill on the very day your daughter comes home from a NFTY or USY Convention!

            May you live to a hundred and twenty and run out or your Medicare vouchers!

            May you be reunited in the World to Come with your ancestors, who were all good, radical socialist garment worker union men and women...and may they haunt you through eternity!

            I don’t know who Gd would vote for, but in some states they wouldn’t let him vote anyway because he doesn’t have a picture I.D.

But one thing is for sure.  If YOU believe in Gd, I trust that you believe that Gd cares about our acting ethically and justly and compassionately. And rest assured that there are scoundrels and saints in each party. There is no lack of dishonesty, lying and mudslinging in either the Democratic or Republican Party—because after all, there are some things about which there is bi-partisan agreement. But rest assured that among both parties there are good people, kind people, people who care about making this country a better place and the world a better place. They simply, but strongly disagree about the ways that we can bring about positive change, prosperity to our country, and peace around the world. Thank you for listening.


As your rabbi I tell you that voting is a sacred obligation—not to be treated lightly or ignored because you are lazy or want to get out of jury duty. So if you haven’t already voted with early voting, get out on Tuesday and vote. May Gd bless America—especially the victims of Sandy! Amen!


                                                Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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