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Learning a real-life lesson

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For example, in eating outside in our sukkahs in the fall we learn something about vulnerability. We can’t make the sun shine, or the temperature remain as high as we’d like. The roof must be open enough so that we can see the sky — but that means we can get wet if it rains.

As we wrote in a Sukkot editorial, “If this teaches us nothing else, it must remind us that there are people who live with real hardships every day. When the week ends, we can return to our normal lives: dry, well-fed, within four solid walls. They cannot.”

The heat wave we are now experiencing should serve as a similar wake-up call. Not everyone has water — something so basic we almost take it for granted.

Yet an article in Monday’s New York Times reminds us that in Haiti, orphans are still arriving in makeshift shelters “naked and dehydrated.” Forget about fans — and food.

The heat, and the dire need around the world, reminds us that resources such as water must be prized and preserved. Green lawns are not a sacrament, and lawn sprinklers are not a necessity. We can conserve water in other ways as well, using less of it when we do laundry and wash dishes.

Those who fled to the white beaches we still enjoy here in New Jersey could think only with horror of what has happened to beaches along this nation’s Gulf Coast, where residents and visitors could not take refuge in formerly swimmable waters. Now, tar balls dot the sand, deposited by the countless tons of oil leaking from the BP well. Restaurants, inns, and other small businesses dependent on travelers are facing tough economic times, as are countless small businesses that rely on the water for their livelihood. And the wildlife — one has only to look at the pictures.

The heat should also remind us of our very Jewish responsibility to look out for our neighbors. Are there people in our community more vulnerable than others to its ravages? Perhaps our synagogues can begin with their own members, ensuring that the homebound have sufficient water and supplying them with other members’ unused fans or even air-conditioning units.

There is something we can do. Let’s keep that in mind.


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A view from the pew


Toward an end to gun violence

It is not entirely foreign to Jews to imagine being massacred at prayer.

This is not even a question of historical memory, although our story overflows with such murderous episodes. No, we just have to think back to last November, when assassins burst into a synagogue at Har Nof, in Jerusalem, and butchered four men there as they stood lost in the Amidah, the silent prayer at the heart of the service.

Then the killers slaughtered a Druze policeman who tried to protect the daveners.

Last week, a crazed, racist 21-year-old, a loser with a bowl haircut, dead eyes, and a gun, went into the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston, like Jerusalem, is an old city (although of course here in the New World we measure age in centuries; in Israel it’s in millennia). It’s been at the heart of the slave trade, and so represented evil, but it is also beautiful, graceful, quirky, and a bustling tourist destination.



Thoughts on identity

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