By Jerry Sorokin
“It could have been worse.” That’s what people around Iowa City keep telling each other, after a weekend of (mostly) clear weather and an earlier than expected crest to the river.
But the record floodwaters are here. It will be weeks before the town dries out and months before life returns to normal. People have been evacuated from their homes. Businesses are closed. The university’s art museum, library, and a dozen other buildings are either flooded or still at risk. Summer classes and recreational activities are suspended.
This flood has tested the organizational skills of our leaders and the patience of our population. Everyone has stepped up: volunteers building sandbag walls; out-of-towners taking a three-hour detour to get to their nephew’s bar mitzvah; neighbors watching each other’s pets. It’s the kind of meaningful (Jewish?) experience that builds a community. No one should have to endure this kind of natural disaster, but the response gives us all reason to be proud and hopeful for the future.
The Jewish community came out OK. Facilities serving the Iowa City Jewish community—Hillel, Agudas Achim Synagogue, and Chabad—are all high and dry. A large group of volunteers, including people from as far away as Minneapolis, helped build a sandbag wall outside Agudas Achim in case the creek nearby overflowed its banks. The good news: the sandbag wall wasn’t tested. In other parts of Iowa, synagogues in Dubuque, Mason City and Waterloo absorbed some damage.
Once our students return to Iowa City in August, we’ll have new challenges. Some of them have lost their homes. All of them have friends and professors whose lives have been affected by acts beyond anyone’s control. We will seize this opportunity to build new tzedek projects, teach students about community leadership, and help our neighbors recover.
We need to remember what the Psalmist wrote (69:16-18): “Let the floodwaters not sweep me away; let the deep not swallow me; let the mouth of the Pit not close over me. Answer me, O Lord, according to Your great steadfastness; in accordance with Your abundant mercy turn to me; do not hide Your face from Your servant, for I am in distress; answer me quickly.”
We’re grateful for the concern and good wishes we’ve been receiving from around the Hillel world. Shalom u’vracha.
Jerry Sorokin is the executive director at the University of Iowa Hillel.