It’s an old custom for Rabbis to give a long sermon on Shabbos Shuva – the Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s become a tradition at UAlbany to do a “composite” Shabbos Shuva sermon (aka “drasha”) with the requisite length by asking students to share around the table over Shabbos Lunch.

Shabbos Shuva 2022 (5783) comes on the heels of the devastating hurricane Ian which many of us have been watching and concerned about. Given this backdrop we asked students to each share some practical or figurative message or metaphor for broader application to life’s journeys, personal growth and transformation, and Teshuvah.

Transcribing here what students shared – best we can remember:

There’s not much we can to influence the path of a hurricane, that part of it is way beyond our control. The part that’s up to us is how we respond and recover. That part is in our hands. – Noah M. 

You can prepare and prepare, but you can’t be prepared for everything. Somethings happen that we totally don’t expect and can’t anticipate. But we have to deal with that, too. – Emily B. 

Water can be tremendously beneficial, it is the stuff of life, we can’t live without it. But too much of it, or when its uncontrolled and unchanneled, it can be the most destructive and dangerous force. Everything – even life-giving water – is best in moderation. – Estee S.

Sandy hit Long Island years ago, but Plainview is pretty far from the water so we weren’t affected much. But soon after a Nor’easter storm came through Long Island and hit Plainview pretty hard. We watched as a transformer blew up and caught fire across the street, it was pretty dramatic. Look, sometimes we are spared one thing and we feel complacent and comfortable, but we should realize that something else might be around the corner. – Jason F. 

Hurricanes and natural disasters are one of those times were you see all kinds of  kind and generous neighborly acts, people from neighboring towns or even across the street who were more fortunate or less affected invite their neighbors over and help them out. I feel Shabbos House is like that all the time. When we are without this or that or need a good meal Shabbos House brings us in and takes good care of us. – – Danny D. 

I was down in Florida with my family when Hurricane Ian hit but we were on the other side of Florida so we weren’t affected much. But one thing they kept saying (including in formal announcements by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis) was about keeping inside. When storms are raging, you are safer inside. – Shane M. 

So there was a funny meme going around of the guy standing atop his roof in Florida with his gun pointed towards the hurricane coming his way. Look, don’t take things sitting down, you gotta fight back anyway you can! – Sam G. 

Hurricanes bring a lot of rain, and that can cause a lot of problems. But the worst problems come from the storm surge. Think of that as not our actions themselves as much as the cumulative impact and effect of our actions, their consequences and impact on others – like a storm surge. That’s where the big issues are. – David I.

Right before a storm hit people rush to store to stock up on basics that you might need to weather the storm at home. The aisles of supermarkets with bottled water are totally emptied out as people stock up. You can think of the high holiday season as a time to stock up on spiritual necessities to help us have what we need to get through the year ahead. – Matt B. 

Look, you gotta plan for the unexpected, too. Don’t say that its unexpected and will never happen. Keep that eventuality in mind and do some planning for it. And this might not be a bad time to invest in some Florida real-estate, especially in the most affected areas. – Aaron K. 

Disasters and tragedies are sad times of course, but they are also times to look for the helpers. It is beautiful and heartwarming to see people helping people, neighbors being there for each other, total strangers giving of themselves and their resources. It can bring out the best in people. – Kayla S. 

There’s that expression, “the calm before the storm”. You know its coming, but nothing happening yet and the it all rushes in, in such an overwhelming way. It becomes too much to handle at once. You can’t always be your best during the storm, it takes time to be able to manage and deal with things. – Jordan R.

Hurricane Ian, like all hurricanes, started off as a tropical storm, it  builds momentum and hit Cuba as a Category 2. Then it built momentum and steam over the warm Gulf of Mexico and came barreling into SW Florida as a Category 4 storm, even close to Category 5. By the time it reached Orlando, traveling over land it lost momentum again, but once it got to the Atlantic it built up enough wind and steam to hit Carolina as a hurricane again. You can think of the holiday season this way: The storm starts brewing in Elul, picks up more as you get closer to Rosh Hashanah, where it heats up a lot, then slows down quite a bit (but not totally) during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but builds up again on Yom Kippur, much higher intensity, and on Yom Kippur itself it builds up towards Neilah, the closing prayer…. varying levels and effects of spiritual intensity during this time of year. – Ben M. 

It’s crazy to see people lose everything, flood homes, floating homes, so much destroyed, lost and gone. It makes you rethink and appreciate what you have, never to take anything for granted, when you see people lose so much in just a few hours. Gotta be thankful for what we have! – Hannah S.

Hurricane’s highlight water’s dangerous & destructive side, torrential rain, high storm surges, water flowing in the streets. But rain (in lesser intensity, more moderate rain) can also feel cleansing and refreshing, a drizzle can be calming and pleasant. – Jess visiting from Boston and Michigan

I was speaking with the grandmother (in Staten Island) about the hurricane in Florida and reminded of an opposite experience with my brother a few years ago, she told me of an acquaintance who left college in Orlando to stay at someone’s home which turned out to flood much worse than would have been had they stayed at college. Sometimes people jump out of the frying pan into the fire, sometimes in our efforts to avoid a problem we end up with a worse problem. So gotta be careful with those choices. Another thought is that hopefully people can get together and be there for each other in good times, not only when disaster hits. – Adam N. 

Eventually the hurricane passes, the cleanup begins and then later on there’s the process of rebuilding. But no one rebuilds back the same after a hurricane. You always try to build back better, stronger, wiser, safer – especially after the experience you’ve been through. Same is with the Jewish New Year. The goal isn’t to have another year the same as last, but to make this year a better one, to start off on a better foot, to look for ways to improve and grow. – Samara K. 

I have family in Florida but they weren’t in the path of this hurricane. It’s interesting that people can live in somewhat of a similar area yet be affected so differently. It’s like that with life, too. We sit around the table, or dorm together with people, we share lots of the same circumstances, but we can be going through very different things, and impacted differently by them. – Madison M. 

Most people (aside for farmers and gardeners) tend not to like rain, it messes with your outdoor plans and can make things a mess. But I’ve found that lots of country singers try to give rain (and life’s adversity) a positive twist or meaningful potential. – Rebecca B. 

I like to look for the silver lining in the clouds or the rainbow after a storm. Somehow there can be good in everything as long as we look for it and seek it out. – Liron K. 

It’s easy to tune out and ignore what other people are going through – even when we are sitting across from the person affected by “their storm”, how much more so when we are far away or living in a totally different space. Or we can be aware and sensitive, knowledgeable and empathetic – even when afar, how much more so from up close. – Chani R. 

Momentum builds. Bad momentum can make things much worse (as with the hurricane building warmth and momentum in the Gulf of Mexico), but good momentum can make good things better! Let’s put our energies into building up good things in our lives. – Sara R. 

There’s an old joke of the guy in a flooded area who refuses help from the passing police because “G-d will help me.” The water rises, he goes up to his second floor. A boat passes by offering for him to get on but he refuses the boat, too, because he is waiting for G-d’s assistance. The floodwaters keep rising and he has no choice but to climb up onto his roof. Soon after a rescue helicopter hovers above, lowering a rope. But he refuses to grab on, as he waits for divine assistance. Sadly, there was nowhere else to climb and as the waters kept rising, he drowned and died. When he comes to heaven, the guy cries out to G-d: “Where were you!?” G-d replies: “I sent you the officers, the boat, the helicopter….” May we realize the hand of G-d in our lives and utilize all possible opportunities for spiritual survival and thrival, connection and growth. – Raizy R.