A Rabbi’s Remarks on the One Year Anniversary of the BP Disaster

April 22nd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

by Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn, Congregation Temple Sinai, New Orleans, LA
originally posted on the RACblog

This entry is part of our interfaith series of reflections and calls to action around the one year memorial of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and BP oil spill disaster. Find resources to commemorate the memorial in your own community here.

These reflections were delivered by Rabbi Cohn at a sunrise memorial held in New Orleans on April 20.

My dear friends,

One week ago I watched as our granddaughter, Ryann Eliza was brought into this world. Among my emotions and prayerful, urgent thoughts surrounding that unforgettably sweet and wonderful scene, was the fervent prayer:

And please God, may this child inherit a world of healthy air and sea and natural abundance.

On Ryann’s eighth day of life, we have gathered in this prominent place – our backs to the river and gulf but our faces toward the Citadel of faith, of government and commerce – to this day commemorate the first anniversary of the BP spill which was America’s greatest natural disaster in its 235 year history.

People quite rightly are asking:

  • How and when, and by whose insistence and stubborn support will the publics’ mind be refocused upon what happened in the Gulf?
  • What agency of government will assume the visionary and soulful responsibility of enacting these oft-mentioned 100 spill and related bills introduced last Congress, not one of which has become law?
  • Have credit receipts for rising gas prices stripped our consciences and moral memory of all those months when we and the entire world watched in utter impotence as the poisonous oil spewed forth in defiance of our every human effort?

This season of the year, Passover, summons the Jewish People to recall the good fortune and the blessings to which our People have been heir. In a lengthy and sing-songy litany we rehearse…

Had God brought us out of Egypt
and not divided the Sea for us, Dayenu -
It would have been sufficient

And then the splitting of the Sea,

Crossing a dry land;
substance for 40-years with manna;
the Sabbath, the Torah, the Land of Promise,
the Prophets and the Call to become a
servant people of God.

After each, we sing or say – Dayenu – it would have been sufficient.

In gratitude for blessing received and for wisdom and the means to secure a better and healthier future for us all now achievable – WE MUST TAKE ACTION.

The opposite of fulfilling a divine commandment is not sin. That is too high faluting and non-transparent a notion. Forget the old talk of saints versus sinners. The real word is those who care and act versus those who posture but remain indifferent.

We are taught:

In every generation, each person should
feel as though he or she had gone forth
from Egypt, as it is written:

And you shall explain to your
child on that day, it is because of
what the Lord did for me when
I myself went out of Egypt.

Now, friends, no matter how you figure it, those events took place a long time ago in Egypt. And yet we still insist every year (and forever) -

It was we who were slaves,
we who were strangers.
When a stranger. resides with you
in your land, you shall not wrong him …
You shall love him as yourself.

Well there, dear ones, is the cornerstone of every one of our faiths – “You shall love them as yourself.”

Are you telling me that not 3500 years later; not 350 years later, not 35 years later, not 10 years later, or, 5 or 3, but one year later – our nation has forgotten our brothers and sisters?

Are our shores and coastlines, the depths and shallows of our seas not only awash in noxious oil? Are our very souls awash and morally asleep in contemptible indifference?

Let the power of faith at this season which denies the death of hope and the finality of the grave; cause us to resurrect our determination and the demand for our region’s deliverance.

From the bondage to freedom.
From agony to future joy.
From hopelessness to newborn opportunity.
From the inertia of indifference to the
celebration of goodness, obligation
acknowledged, duty fulfilled
and a better day realized -

For Ryann Eliza, for you and yours and for all of God’s children.

Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn has served Temple Sinai since 1987. He serves as National Chairman of the Committee on Aging of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and  is an Adjunct Professor at Dillard University, where he teaches a course on “The History of Jewish Thought.”

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