I know what it’s like to be a Southerner confronted with unexpected weather conditions. I’m not talking about hurricanes or tornadoes or hail the size of golf balls; those are awful but unfortunately not unusual in the South. But when it snows, or freezing rain decorates the landscape with ice, and the temperature drops to single digits… well, Southerners are paralyzed. I remember one time we got seven inches of snow in Mississippi during my 11 years living there. It was a Friday morning and the president of the congregation called to see if we should cancel Shabbat services. The sun came out, the temperature soared to 60 degrees, and everything melted away.
This week, freezing temperatures and snow and ice descended on our southern states and it is not melting away so easily. The cities don’t have the equipment or resources to manage this kind of weather, so everything shut down more than it already was. Many lost power, vaccinations were even delayed.
But nothing compares to Texas. Millions of Texans have been without power since Sunday night or Monday, and no one knows when it will be restored. Unlike the rest of the country, Texas has its own power grid. They did not winterize their equipment after a similar arctic freeze in 2011, and so everything failed again. With no heat, and many without fireplaces, people still huddle in their freezing homes layered under clothing that isn’t even what we would call “winter wear.” Some sit in their running cars, or have broken up furniture to start a fire. Pipes burst, the city’s waste management system couldn’t function, and a “boil water” order was issued… for those who have water and the ability to boil it. The stories are devastating, especially when it could have been prevented.
Still, humanity always rises above tragedy. This is what we believe as Jews, what we’ve seen, experienced, and initiated ourselves. It’s happening on South Padre Island, where volunteers – most if not all suffering from their own losses – focused their humanity on sea turtles. Apparently, sea turtles rely on external sources of heat to maintain their body temperature. When water temperatures drop below 50 degrees, the turtles become lethargic, their heart rates and circulation slow down, they can’t move and have trouble breathing, the result of which is basically drowning. This is the largest cold stunning event ever recorded on South Padre Island. Under the guidance the non-profit organization Sea Turtles, Inc., people had a new mission: to save the endangered turtles. It was something they could accomplish. It was a righteous goal that brought hope in the midst of personal crisis and ongoing communal trauma. Instead of dwelling on their own problems, volunteers warmed the turtles with blankets at the convention center and warmed their own hearts and spirits at the same time.
When I heard the story, it warmed my heart too. May all of God’s creations – both human and animal – who are at risk from this week’s unpredictable weather be granted restored power, physical warmth, safety and healing. Please.
You can see more from the local news station on this story here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=SU8EO79eU5w&feature=share