On Thursday, September 20th, Rabbi Patz was one of the clergy invited to speak at the Ecumenical ceremony convened by the Puerto Rican Secretary of State to memorialize the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria. The event included addresses by Governor Ricardo Rossello and Jeniffer Gonzáles -Colón, PR’s Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, and Governor Rick Scott of Florida were among the honored guests at the emotional ceremony which took place at Castillo San Cristobal.
Rabbi Patz was the first of the members of the clergy to speak.
You can see the entire video below. Rabbi Patz’s message starts at the 22:45 minute mark. You can read his remarks following the video.
REMARKS AT THE ECUMENICAL CEREMONY
“A UN AÑO DEL HURACAN MARIA”
Castillo San Cristobal
September 20, 2018
Rabbi Norman Patz
Temple Beth Shalom of Puerto Rico
This has been a hard year for Puerto Rico. We suffered an attack that came in three waves:
First, Hurricane Irma and the resulting ambivalence about the ferocity of the approaching Maria. Then the hurricane itself, a terrifying night
and day for us all. And then the worst part, the painful aftermath and the slow start of relief efforts.
A member of my congregation who was off-island during the storm wrote: “My torn heart, my heavy soul, my mind is on my island. Puerto Rico of my life, your branches will bloom again. Your sky has never stopped being blue. Your people have never stopped being giants.”
Hurricane Maria dealt a heavy blow to an island already crippled by an overloaded and fragile infrastructure and the damages of Hurricane Irma. Yet, despite the challenge, unprecedented in scope, spontaneous relief efforts began instantly. Residents started gathering debris, removing trees that blocked roads, all by themselves. Restaurants opened, with severely limited menus – cash only, of course. One restaurant offered a huge cookie with a swirling hurricane design on it.
At the initiative of its musical director, Maximiano Valdes (whose wife is an active board member of our congregation), the symphony orchestra,
whose building was too damaged to be used, took itself on tour, playing 22 concerts in devastated small towns across Puerto Rico, giving a tremendous morale boost to these heavily impacted, isolated communities. It was an extraordinary, validating experience for the members of the
orchestra as well.
In defiance of the destruction and the astounding flooding, Puerto Rican flags began to appear everywhere, many with the words Puerto Rico se levanta! attached to them. The spirit that prevailed everywhere was straight-out resilience. Puerto Rico se levanta a pesar de todos los obstáculos.
The tiny Jewish community on the island, with the help of the Jewish Federations of North America and IsraAID, the Israeli humanitarian aid
agency, launched relief efforts immediately. Temple Beth Shalom’s people had been sending emergency supplies to St. Thomas after Irma. Now,
members – even though they themselves were without power or water – distributed generators and 300 water purification kits to families in
isolated mountain locations, along with instructions in how to use them.
Even last month, our members were in Utuado, one of the hardest hit communities, working on water purification.
Members of Shaare Zedek distributed 900 tarps, thousands of shoes, clothing, food, water, sanitary supplies and dozens of generators, concentrating their efforts on Loiza, whose mayor, Julia Nazario, wrote an essay in El Nuevo Dia praising their efforts. Chabad of Puerto Rico
distributed prepared meals and 185,000 pounds of food to 25 municipalities, with five full-time workers – nearly $2 million of needed supplies.
The efforts of the members of Puerto Rico’s Jewish community symbolize the can-do spirit of resilience – resistencia – that pervades the
island. The mood is vamonos! That spirit was best expressed in a sign my wife and I saw on a restaurant’s chalkboard on Ashford two days after
Nuestro espiritu esta intacto. Vamos pá encima! “We shall overcome!”
We are weaker, but we are stronger too! We acknowledge our frustrations and the pain and loss and fear that still linger, but we also seek to
recover our gratitude to God by acting with kindness and generosity to all in our beloved Puerto Rico.
Somos más débiles, y tambíen somos más fuertes! We have learned how to survive and we will make it, with God’s help – con la ayuda de Dios.