Many of us have been focused this week on the devastating news of the fires in California. It is so hard to believe the devastation, the loss of life, the homes destroyed, the stories of entire towns wiped out and so much more. I was in touch with family in California who have been forced to leave their homes and who have reached out to neighbors and friends to offer assistance. I heard of many Jewish institutions that were affected by the storms including many schools and campsites that were leveled by the fires and that now need to be rebuilt. I heard so many difficult stories of people who were forced to evacuate with so little warning.
I began to think more about what it would mean to have to evacuate my home - how would I react if I was given a short time to pack up and take the few things that would fit in my car. What are the items I have in my possession that are the most important to me and that I could not live without? Sara and I had a conversation about what we would take and I appreciated the time to learn what was most important to her. We talked to our kids about this same topic and the conversation was enlightening and a bit surprising.
I suggest that everyone go through this same exercise this week. As you sit around the Shabbat table tonight or sit around the Thanksgiving table soon, take some time to ask everyone - If you were given 20 minutes to evacuate your house, what would you take? Would people take clothes or medicine? Would you take photo albums or jewelry? Would you take something unique and sentimental? What would you take with you?
I am sure, if we all take the time to think about our answers and listen to each other, we will learn something new about everyone in the conversation. The stories we will tell each other and the questions we will ask will help us all in countless ways. It can be a great conversation starter and fascinating topic for our holiday tables.
God willing, these are only hypothetical conversations that we will never need to act upon. However, if God forbid something happens to us and we need to evacuate our home in a short time, these conversations will help us be better prepared.
Over the holidays, let's keep the people affected by these fires in California in our hearts and prayers. Let's talk about ways we can help them and support them and collect any things that they need. Let's also express our gratitude that we are not facing any challenges like this. And let's also be grateful for the many blessings we have in our lives.
As you are making your plans for Thanksgiving this week, I encourage you to consider being a part of our Interfaith Thanksgiving Service on Thursday morning at 11 AM at the University Chapel at Princeton University. The phrase I plan to share with the community on Thanksgiving comes from the Psalm for Shabbat that we say every week - Tov L'Hodot L'Adonai - It is good to give thanks to God. Thanking God makes us better people and helps us appreciate all that we have in our lives. Amongst the things we have is support and love from our community and time to prepare for life's challenges.
I wish you a Shabbat Shalom, a Happy Thanksgiving and wonderful week of worthwhile conversations.
Rabbi Adam Feldman