Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Negroes, Jews and Stories

I am proud to have helped rescue 500 people during the New Orleans flood. Physically, the saving was done by three Rasta-looking guys with a boat who call themselves “The Soul Patrol.” But emotionally, psychologically, spiritually it was me… and of course, you.

The Soul Patrol are just a few of the fabulous Americans, most of them negroes, who performed heroic rescues of those left behind by their government.

These folks did not wait for help but provided it. They exemplify the best in us all and we get to claim their stories. The rabbis would say we should.

If there is one thing we Jews do better than just about any people on earth, it is remember our stories. From the binding of Isaac to the madness of the holocaust, everybody the western world knows the Jewish legends and we Jews ceaselessly retell them, because we are our stories. At Passover every Jew is required to feel and behave as if she had personally been freed from Egyptian slavery. Every summer we are bound by law to be sad and mournful because our great temple in Jerusalem was destroyed two thousand years ago.

That’s how I’m approaching the hero tales of the New Orleans flood, as my stories. Like the guy and his wife and kids who stole a truck full of water and delivered it to a group of survivors camped in hot sun in the middle of an abandoned highway. The family then loaded the empty truck with as many seniors and kids with their moms as would fit and blessed those who remained as they and their charges escaped the locked down, flooded city. I’m all over that, I was right there!

When I remember tales of Revolutionary minutemen who pursued guerilla war against a vastly more powerful occupier, I will also recall the gang bangers and thugs in the convention center who, moved at the sight of elders left hungry and sick, formed on-the-spot militias to protect the old and the vulnerable along with teams to “loot” nearby flooded stores for food and dry clothes.

And when I brag to my European pals of New York’s storied 9/11 firefighters I will also boast of New Orleans’ legendary “Soul Patrol,” grey-bearded colored guys who, through literal hell and high water, rose or rowed to the occasion, saved hundreds and inspired thousands.

Like a good Jew, I will tell and retell all the tales because as an American and a human, all those stories are mine and all those heroes are me… and of course, you.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Heroes in our Midsts

There is greatness among us. The government is flying survivors of the New Orleans around the country hundreds of them have arrived in Chicago. A lot of them are poor and presently homeless but the stories now bubbling from the waters of New Orleans are of the poor and black as action heroes.

Like the comic book team the Fantastic Four, the old, sick and poor of New Orleans faced unprotected, nature’s full fury. Their lives proved more powerful than storm and the heroes within them sprang forth.

Like the “Soul Patrol” three forty-something, rasta-lookng guys with a boat who rescued something like five hundred people and delivered life saving food and medicine to as many.

Flood survivors tell stories of “looters” are who seem not just American heroes but role models to the youth of the world. Like the gang bangers in the Convention Center who were moved to nobility by abandoned senior citizens. The old people had apparently ridden out the hurricane in their nursing home, then gotten themselves, walker, wheelchairs, canes and all to the superdome only to be turned away because too many were there already. The seniors then made their way to the Convention Center where they arrived at wet, smelly and famished.

At the sight of suffering elders, like the Incredible Hulk when angered, something powerful arose within the gangbanging breast. Dozens of “thugs and hoodlums” organized themselves on the spot into a militia to protect the aged and safeguard the honor of the womenfolk. According to one survivor the “merciless criminals” formed teams to “loot” abandon stores of juice for babies, food for all, clothes for seniors who’d been wet for days and yes beer for those who wanted some. It makes me pray that under similar condition my children would become not just “looters.” But the best damn “looters” the nation has ever seen!

Now many of these folks are scattered, like honorable seeds among, the citizens of Chicago, Houston and elsewhere. But the problems they had in the Big Easy may follow them here. Who knows what another year may bring. Does abandonment to a cat five hurricane by your government drive one mad? Is heroism a cure for addiction, poverty or racism?

The next homeless, disabled or old and black person you see on the Michigan Avenue, a few weeks ago, could have been rowing grandmothers to safety or rescuing babies from rooftops. And if there’s a Jihadi attack or earthquake poor and homeless heroes may again rise to our rescue. Who knows? Beyond the tattoos and prison yard physique, beneath that smelly coat and matted hair may lurk a cape and a spandex suit with a big red “S.”