Friday, 23 May 2008

And the Waters Mastered the Land for 150 Days (Gen 7:24)

I wonder how CNN and the like would have covered Noah’s Flood. Forty days and forty nights of rain and then another 150 days of the water just hanging around, ebbing slowly away, revealing a scene of devastation and destruction. How many pictures of rotting corpses could we expect to see before the ‘news cycle’ rolled onto something else?

This Shabbat will mark three weeks since Cyclone Nargis struck. The story has all but disappeared from our screens and papers. This is despite the estimated million who have lost their homes and the millions who have lost crops – their only source of income and then there are the dead. In the words of a contact of the American Jewish World Service;

Flooding has created extremely hazardous conditions as diseases that already overwhelmingly afflict the people of Burma (Myanmar), particularly malaria, continue to spread rapidly with the influx of mosquitoes… Corpses all over the streets have created filthy, highly unsanitary conditions and are havens for parasites and infectious diseases. Clean water sources, as well as all food reserves, are now virtually nonexistent in the affected areas. Civilians have lost their life savings, their homes, and countless friends and family members. The already impoverished people of Burma (Myanmar) have nowhere to take refuge and nowhere to seek treatment for injuries and illness.

In the approach to this Shabbat I would like to ask New London members and friends to support World Jewish Relief’s Cyclone Appeal. WJR is of course well known to many members at New London. In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone WJR reached out to fellow development agencies already working in Burma and, by buying plastic sheeting for temporary shelter, medicines, water purification tablets and rice ‘in-country,’ WJR have been able to reach almost 200,000 cyclone survivors immediately, without having to wait for bureaucratic channels to be prised open. This is enormously important work. As Jews we have an obligation to ‘feed the poor of non-Jews as well as the poor of Israel’ and, and this is perhaps the most telling of commands, an obligation to ‘bury the dead of the non-Jews as well as the dead of Israel for such are the ways of peace’ (Rambam MT H. Avel 14:12).

It would, of course, been far easier if the Myanmar Junta had been easier partners; if the cyclone had struck a less remote and fragile area and certainly it would have been easier if there had not been a cyclone at all. But we are not allowed to chose what kind of disaster we would like to respond to, we are only given the opportunity to respond to the disasters placed before us. The test is more challenging since the initial flurry of media interest subsides far faster than the flood waters. We dare not, however, fail.

For more information and an opportunity to donate please call 020 8736 1250 or log-on to

Shabbat shalom

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