Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cycle of Life: Natural Disasters (Part 5 of 5)

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

This is the fifth and final installment of the series.

Part 1 is available by clicking here. Part 2 is available by clicking here. Part 3 is available by clicking here.
Part 4 is available by clicking here.
DROUGHTS

Droughts appeared to come in waves of years and none was worst than that which came in the 1860’s and 1870’s and was worldwide. One of the countries which continually had droughts from biblical times onward was Israel and many natives and settlers died during these periods of drought from famine and disease. No matter how much money was raised by Jews around the world to help those in the Holy Land, there was no respite from these conditions until the 20th Century when better methods of agriculture or mechanization and irrigation came into being.

Given this natural disaster of such long term significance, one finds many allusions to it in the religious liturgy where it is prayed for every day between autumn and spring. A special prayer, Vaneinu, the Jewish prayer for rain in times of drought is as follows (in Hebrew and English):

תפלה לעצירת הגשמים בשומע תפלה:
וַעֲנֵנוּ בּורֵא עולָם בְּמִדַּת הָרַחֲמִים, בּוחֵר בְּעַמּו יִשרָאל לְהודִיעַ גָּדְלו וְהַדְרַת כְּבודו, שׁומֵעַ תְּפִלָּה תֵּן טַל וּמָטָר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וְתַשבִּיעַ אֶת הָעולָם כֻּלּו מִטּוּבֶךָ, וּמַלֵּא יָדֵינוּ מִבִּרְכותֶיךָ וּמֵעשֶׁר מַתְּנַת יָדֶךָ, שְׁמור וְהַצֵל שָׁנָה זו מִכָּל דָּבָר רָע, וּמִכָּל מִינֵי מַשְׁחִית, וּמִכָּל מִינֵי פֻּרְעָנִיּות, וַעֲשה לָהּ תִּקְוָה וְאַחֲרִית שָׁלום, חוּס וְרַחֵם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל תְּבוּאָתֵנוּ וּפֵרותֵינוּ, וּבָרְכֵנוּ בְּגִשְׁמֵי בְרָכָה וְנִזְכֶּה לְחַיִּים וָשׁובַע וְשָׁלום, כַּשָׁנִים הַטּובות, וְהָסֵר מִמֶּנּוּ דֶּבֶר וְחֶרֶב וְרָעָב, וְחַיָּה רָעָה וּשְׁבִי וּבִזָה, וְיֵצֶר הָרָע וְחָלָיִים רָעִים וְקָשִׁים, וּמְאורָעות רָעיִם וְקָשִׁים, וּגְזור עָלֵינוּ גְּזֵרות טובות מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, וְיִגּלּוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ עַל מִדּותֶיךָ, וְתִתְנַהֵג עִם בָּנֶיךָ בְּמִדַּת הָרַחֲמִים, וְקַבֵּל בְּרַחֲמִים וּבְרָצון אֶת תְּפִלָּתֵנוּ

English Translation

Answer us, Creator of the world, with your attribute of Mercy. He who chooses His nation Israel to make known His greatness and glory. He who hears prayers – grant dew and rain on the face of the earth and satiate the whole world from Your goodness. Fill our hands from Your blessing and from the wealth of Your giving Hand. Protect and save this year from anything evil, from any type of disaster, from any type of tragedy and provide this year with hope and a peaceful ending. Have mercy upon us, our produce and our fruits and bless us with blessed rain. May we merit a life of plenty and peace as in the good years; and remove from us: pestilence, sickness, famine, wild animals, captivity, plunder, the evil inclination, illnesses and disastrous events. Decree upon us
positive decrees before You, and may Your mercy triumph amongst Your attributes and may You lead your nation according to the attribute of mercy. And may You accept our prayers with mercy and appeasement.

Some other countries where drought brought its ugly and damaging tentacles were:

Melbourne Drought (April 13, 1866) – A long and arduous drought was felt in Australia, particularly in Melbourne, where a day of humiliation and prayers with special services in all the houses of worship was arranged on January 5, 1866. A special prayer was read by Rev. A.B. Davis of Sydney in the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation located at 472 Bourke Street. Offerings were given in the amount of £112. It was mentioned in a later report that the rains came shortly after the Jewish prayers were offered (June 2, 1876).

Memel Drought (March 26, 1869) – The severe and incessant drought of 1868-1869 in western Russia on the Prussian frontier led to a scanty harvest. This, in turn, led to diminished food for the famished population. Out of approximately 8,000 Jews, only 10 could be counted on for support. Winter brought famine and pestilence including widespread typhus. In the town of Chitowein, families were used to living six families to one home and whole houses were stricken with parents dying and children left uncared for and starving. The situation was terrible.

Moroccan Drought (January 3, 1879) – It was reported that copious incessant rains were now falling in the Empire of Morocco after over three years of severe drought. As a plentiful harvest was now expected, the relief which had been collected would not be needed for more than three or four months. Any excess of funds would be put towards other issues in the area. Further reportage spoke about drought again coming to the land and fervent prayers for rain being offered. Remembered were the years of the previous long drought where almost every family had lost loved ones (April 16, 1897).

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