The Sunrise Highway separated my neighborhood from the area of Nassau County that was under an evacuation order last weekend (largely ignored, from what I have heard). But my wife and I briefly considered a voluntary, pre-emptive evacuation of our own as Hurricane (or tropical storm) Irene barreled toward the East Coast and weathermen predicted an event just short of the apocolypse.
If a mandatory evacuation was in the cards, I argued, it was better to get out on our own volition ahead of time and head for the highest ground I can think of: The Catskills. That way we’d beat the rush and end up someplace more elegant than a high school gym for Shabbat. Around Friday morning, we made the decision to batten down the hatches and shelter in place, in no small part helped along by the cost of a weekend at Kutsher’s (when did they start charging separately for meals?)
And so on Friday morning I found myself with a clipboard in hand and wearing a bicycle helmet, only half kidding around, organizing details to secure all outside objects (e.g the patio furniture and broken basketball hoop I will one day accept that I can never fix) and to secure provisions and check supplies. In almost all cases those details consisted of your blogger, although there was a Shop and Stop run without me.
After I extracted the maximum allowable withdrawal from the ATM, fueled up the van and car and made a fruitless second trip to the supermarket for sold-out batteries and bottled water, we made plans with friends down the block for rotating Shabbat meals and an afternoon hurricane party. The D battery supply was ample, and we had two and a half five-gallon jugs of Poland Spring for the water cooler, probably enough to last a week if the faucets ran dry, and we filled up a bathtub with water for washing and toilet flushing. I scrounged not one but three old battery-powered radios, with double-A’s, and gloated about the merits of keeping old junk.
Next to all those emergency supplies, I placed a rather well-worn tehillim book, just in case it got as bad as the weatherprophets warned. Shabbat was fairly uneventful but for some wind and rain and buzz in shul about who evacuated from Woodmere and who didn’t. On Saturday night, as wind and rain began to batter our home, I began to nervously fixate on the two oak trees on either side of my neighbor’s house, wondering how far they might reach if they toppled. Every time I glaced out the window they seemed to be leaning provocatively in our direction.
Aside from a possible broken window or some lost shingles, I knew that falling trees were the biggest threat to our safety, and the twin oakshad to be four stories tall, though the branches most likely to touch us were the highest and therefore thinnest. To be safe, we set the kids up to sleep on the floor, far away from the windows in their rooms. I slept on and off as the storm progressed, often patrolling between the upstairs windows and the small trickle of water in the basement I discovere while looking for the radios. At a certain point, after shutting down the basement circuit breaker out of concern about an electrical fire, I opened the tehillim book and read a few random passages.
When dawn broke the storm was mostly over and we began to assess our extensive good fortune. Not only didn’t we lose power, as did the neighbors from the house next door on down the block, but a small tree fell in front of our house and knocked down power lines leading into the home directly across the street (still down as of this writing Wednesday night, though power has been restored all around). All around the neighborhood I found some major trees had fallen, blocking streets, but without causing injuries or damage to homes or cars. There was no sign of any flooding. We hadn’t so much as lost our Cablevision connection, though for some reason later in the day, long after the storm left the area, it went on a long hiatus. We were thus unable to watch news conferences by the camera-loving Gov. Chris Christie about the status of the Jersey Shore we hoped to visit later in the week. (Digression: Has anyone checked if this guy has Madeline Albright-like Jewish roots? His Ed Koch-like bluntness and manner of speaking remind me of at least 10 guys I know from shul or yeshiva.)
The Catskills, where we had considered refuge, had taken a major beating (though in all likelihood the only damage we would have sustained at Kutshers would be to our bank account.) There was no evacuation. Staying home had been the right choice.
I have long ago learned to be very careful when talking about prayers being answered. To say that God performed a kindness for one person is to flirt with suggesting that others were deemed less worthy. There are, of course, a great many people who weren’t as lucky, who lost homes and livelihood, and in a few, but too many cases, their lives.
In the end, I think, prayer comes down to a way of self-soothing at a time of crisis, accepting that we are spiritually ready to accept whatever comes our way. I know that worked for me as my children slept and those huge oak trees were bent toward my house by 80 mph winds.