Rising to the Challenge

runyan_josh_otFor someone who’s spent the past three years in sunny southern Florida, this winter has been quite the eye-opener. But ask those who’ve lived in Baltimore most of their lives, even this season’s ice and snow — which, according to the State Highway Administration, has already caused Maryland to expend more than $80 million, far in excess of the $46 million budgeted — pales in comparison with years past.

What is truly remarkable, though, is how small crises such as power outages and school cancellations can bring people together.

Up in suburban Philadelphia last weekend, whole swaths of that state’s Montgomery County were in the dark following the ice storm at the beginning of the month. Some people were told by their utility company that, despite the fact that crews from all over the region — trucks from Baltimore Gas and Electric could be seen traveling north on I-95 in Delaware — were mobilized to get the power flowing again, it would take more than a week to restore service.

In the Jewish community there, families responded by welcoming their neighbors into their homes. And here in Baltimore, the atmosphere was the same. Whether responding to natural disaster or inconvenience, ours is a community that rises to the challenge; doors are flung open, figuratively and literally, to welcome strangers in need.

In an act you’ll read about in the pages of this week’s JT, the JCC eased its membership restrictions late last week to allow those without hot water the chance to enjoy a shower and relax. Beyond that, it was not unheard of for local families to cook hot food for their friends and neighbors or put them up for several days.

With even more wintry precipitation forecast for the foreseeable future, it’s comforting to know that there’s always a helping hand willing to house, feed and, when the need arises, help a new arrival open a van’s iced-up door.

Such concern for another, though, is not uniquely expressed when responding to the short-term inconveniences of life in the northern United States. In the Jewish community, it frequently becomes the underpinning of everything that is done.

From initiatives that allow senior citizens to age in place to organizations that allow deaf Jews to experience the beauty of Jewish ritual, from gatherings in the state capital that advocate on behalf of hardworking families trying to afford Jewish education for their children to those making the painful sacrifice of donating their kidneys, the local Jewish community is remarkable for its caring outlook and determined resolve.

When marshaled effectively, when the collective goodwill of tens of thousands of individuals is strengthened by the philanthropic heft of the more fiscally fortunate among us — as evidenced by the contributions of the late Whiting-Turner CEO Willard Hackerman, of blessed memory, who passed away Monday — great work can be done to improve not only our corner of Maryland, but also the wider world around us.

It’s exciting to be a part of a revolution that can pierce through the dark and cold of winter and bring warmth to the world.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

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