How essential is a house of worship to a neighborhood?
Late last month, I was in Breezy Point, the isolated beachfront neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., that has become an iconic image for the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
The prophet Isaiah asks: "What is the house which you would build for Me, and what is the place of My rest?" (Isaiah 66:1). In the days following the Easter and Passover holidays, 41 Angelenos traveled to the Gulf Coast to translate their faith into action. We were rabbis and pastors, African Americans and Jewish Americans, high school seniors and senior adults, synagogue and church members from 12 Los Angeles congregations who rebuilt homes in Gulfport, Miss.
It was hard to be in Los Angeles in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, perhaps the biggest natural disaster in our history. I had some previous Red Cross training, and, with some additional fast-track prep on disaster response, I was on my way to Louisiana -- first by plane to Houston, then by car to Baton Rouge.
Lodging on one of the first nights was the floor of a church gymnasium. At times, I felt like I was part of a sad "Amazing Race," hurrying throughout Louisiana to provide some assistance to some of Katrina's victims.
We will be admonished not to make politics out of tragedy, but we have a responsibility to figure out what went wrong with the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Today, far too often, tragedy is employed as an incantation to ward off responsibility. (Try Googling the phrase, "The events of today were tragic, but ..." to get a taste of what I mean.)
Tragedy is an idea we get from the Greeks -- human life as a grand, hopeless struggle against our own flaws and unloving celestial forces that conspire to bring us down. Tragedy is a spectacle, provoking a catharsis composed, in Aristotle's phrase, of "pity and terror" in the spectator -- but not outrage. To call something tragic is to take a stance of elegiac distance. The world view that produced the idea of tragedy also produced great thinkers and artists, but it did not produce prophets.