BY RABBI BARRY COHEN
I would wager that most of us associate the sounding of the shofar with High Holiday worship, whether to greet the New Year or to conclude Yom Kippur.
An ancient people, we have used the shofar for other purposes. During warfare, we sounded the shofar to communicate with troops. During crises, we sounded the shofar to express alarm and to call everyone together to share instructions of how to respond.
As wildfires have consumed forests, towns and neighborhoods, now is our time of crisis. I live in the Cedar Hills neighborhood. During these past days, when I have gazed outside or smelled the smoke I cannot prevent from entering my home, I have felt frustrated, tense and helpless.
I have dreaded the times I have to go outside. I never know when I will have sneezing fits. Several times a day, I have checked online to see where the wildfires have moved. I have put together a checklist of what to pack if we receive evacuation orders.
But this pales in comparison to what others have felt. I can try to imagine what I would feel when I saw the flames closing in and then had to scramble with my family to reach safety. I can try to imagine what I would feel when I later returned, only to see the charred remains of my home.
The range of emotions and the grief – or the numbness – would be overwhelming.
In response to this wildfire crisis, the Jewish community is sounding the shofar. We have a sacred responsibility to assist those who have had to evacuate and those who have lost their homes. The Talmud teaches, “kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh,” every Jew is responsible for one another. The implication is that we must respond when those in our community have been deprived of food, clothing or shelter.
How would we feel if the wildfires consumed what we too often take for granted: food on our table, clothes on our back and a roof over our head? Knowing that our community will come to our aid would foster a connection that could never be broken.
Please donate what you can at jewishportland.org/2020-wildfires.
After all, in a future crisis, our safety and security may depend in part upon assistance from those in our community who have stepped forward in the spirit of sacred inter-connectedness.
Rabbi Barry Cohen is Jewish Community Chaplain of the Greater Portland Area. Contact him at 971-361-6124 or