We enter a new year in the eye of a storm.
At time of writing, residents of Texas and Louisiana are assessing the death and destruction from Hurricane Harvey, and facing a rebuilding process that could take years and billions of dollars.
Ironically, the natural disaster – exacerbated by human failure to learn from the mistakes made before, during and after Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago – may have averted a national fiscal disaster in the U.S.
After firing most of his top advisors and reaching new lows of erratic behavior over the summer, U.S. President Donald Trump was set for a man-made storm against Congress before the natural storm hit. He had threatened to shut down the government if he didn’t get approval for his $12 billion border wall with Mexico.
But Mother Nature may have done what saner human minds could not: Reset the president’s priorities and provide a common cause for Trump and elected officials.
Trump is so eager to be seen as a competent manager in the face of natural disaster that he may have to eschew pettiness and temper tantrums – albeit temporarily – to focus on repairing and rebuilding in the wake of the hurricane.
As former Senate Republican budget adviser G. William Hoagland told The New York Times, “They don’t need money to build a wall in Texas, but to rebuild the shoreline in Texas.”
While the Harvey aftermath may keep Trump away from his more foolish priorities, however, it could also affect his involvement in the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.
Son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner, accompanied by special envoy Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, is dutifully traipsing around the Middle East, trying to keep everyone engaged.
You know there’s no good news when the most exciting announcement is that Kushner and company have managed to prevent Palestinian Authority President (PA) Mahmoud Abbas and his representatives from abandoning the talks.
Let’s be realistic. Nothing has changed for the better in this process, and it will not be one of Trump’s priorities for the foreseeable future.
Abbas is 82 and a weak leader with a very limited power base. The U.S. may talk of supplanting Hamas and putting him in charge of Gaza, but that’s a dream.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, is facing yet another corruption probe. Even if he were inclined to make concessions to advance the peace process, he cannot risk alienating his power base at this time.
So don’t expect a settlement freeze, which is usually one of the PA’s preconditions for continuing talks.
“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel,” he told an audience in the Israeli settlement of Barkan late last month. “It has been proven that it does not help peace.
“We’ve uprooted settlements. What did we get? We received missiles. It will not happen anymore.”
With peace remaining as elusive as this time last year, what is a lover of Israel to do to celebrate the arrival of 5778?
I’ve decided to focus on the many wonderful things that are still happening in our spiritual homeland. I’m inspired by Miriam Ballin, a Jerusalem family therapist who has returned to her native Houston with other Israeli mental health professionals to provide psychological support to survivors of the hurricane’s floods.
This is in addition to the work done by IsraAID and iAID, which were among the first international organizations to send teams to Texas to help with cleanup and repair and provide counselling services.
The twist is that Ballin, 33, is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jew who has navigated the expectations and strictures of her community to become the first female medic for United Hatzalah, a mostly haredi volunteer emergency service in Jerusalem.
Last year, she spearheaded the creation of a new psychotrauma unit for the organization. Its 200 members include medics, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers trained in the psychology of crises.
“I’ll be there with my head cover on, in my skirt, doing the work I do,” the mother of five told the Jerusalem Post. “I’ll roll up my sleeves and get the job done.”
We may not be able to stop world leaders from being petty and intransigent. We may not have the skills to lend hands-on assistance in a disaster zone.
But we can vow to start 5778 with our sleeves rolled up, and our hearts and purses open. We can remember that repairing the world starts with kindness and compassion in our own community.