Finding gratitude during a time of destruction and sadness

No one can prepare you for a crisis – manmade or natural. You can read books written from personal accounts of survival, see movies portraying cities that have been rebuilt, listen to colleagues who have gone through their own community’s disasters; but, until you are faced with a crisis yourself, you don’t know how you will respond.

Before the F3 tornado tore through Dallas I would not have imagined those asking me how I was feeling would be met with my reply of “grateful.” Don’t mistake me: I am not grateful for the tornado, its path of destruction, or the grief and pain the tornado caused. I am filled with gratitude in its wake; here’s why. 

It is nothing short of a miracle that no serious injuries (or worse) were sustained. As I drove to the Federation, saw homes on and near Northaven Road, on Royal Lane and on Orchid Street, as well as saw what remained of Northaven Gardens, it was inconceivable how people survived. I have heard astounding stories of a family who sought shelter in the only part of their home that remained standing after the storm; another who’s aunt, at age 88, lives alone and emerged from her directly-hit home with not a scratch. Others credit their attending the Sunday night Cowboys’ game with sparing their lives – because their homes were in the direct path of the tornado. For the opportunities to rebuild, I am grateful.

It has been said that in times of crisis one’s true colors emerge. Some accounts brought me to tears and others astounded me. I have been incredibly moved by the people in our community. The outpouring of concern and kindness is inspiring. From our Jewish community’s agencies to our synagogues, the outpouring of support and help for and to each other extended beyond their boundaries. A.J. Rosmarin, Federation Board Chair, and I sent a Community Update email with examples of such actions. I am incredibly grateful for the people in our Jewish community who have shown their true colors. And, if I could paint you a picture of such, it would be that of a rainbow. I have a deeper appreciation of our community rabbis, agency execs and leadership. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my “work family” too. Because we lost our roof and two windows and skylights were blown in, our Federation office sustained damage due to flooding. Most offices on both floors had approximately four inches of water on the ground; not to mention, the papers exposed on our desks and shelves were destroyed. And, any furniture that we thought was spared, began to warp in just hours. Our mantra is thank goodness it was our building and not one of our partner agencies or synagogues. We are the only ones displaced; no clients or students or congregants without a place to go, to learn or to pray. 

Even our neighbor, the J, who sustained some interior damage, was quick to respond so they only experienced three days of disruption. They even held their be Event giving those of us who attended the ability to begin to heal as a community and celebrate lives spared and resilience to rebuild. The exterior damage, which is difficult to see and challenging to mend, has not held the J back from serving our community members with the same outstanding programming and activities as they did on Friday, October 18. Our JFS opened their hearts and doors to us – giving us use of their very limited space for the first week after so we could assess or damages and make plans for a longer temporary home. So, I am also grateful for my Federation family, who while dealing with their own feeling of loss, are showing up to work every day with a great sense of humor, the same dedication to the mission and work we do, and for a renewed respect and compassion toward their colleagues.  I am especially grateful for my J and JFS families, among so many who supported us. We are more than ready to support them as they offer extraordinary services and have additional clean up to complete. All of which come at additional unbudgeted costs.

I am in awe of those who have suffered property loss while maintaining a positive outlook and a strong resilience. They empower me. They inspire me. I am so grateful for their strength, their attitudes and their amazing aptitude to look beyond their own loss to care and have concern for their neighbors, friends and community.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I will never miss the opportunity to share how being part of the collective, to be part of a system is a priceless benefit for our Federation and community. Jewish Federations of North America has been in constant contact offering to open a donation box to help with the extraordinary financial burden and to help coordinate assistance with other national umbrella organizations, such as, Jewish Community Centers Association, JVOAD the Jewish Volunteer Organization Active in Disasters, among others. We are not alone. We have each other and we have mishpacha (family) across North America and we have even been getting messages of support and desires to help from our brothers and sisters in our Partnership Region in Israel, the Western Galillee. This is the power of the collective. I am grateful to be part of this network and system that is there for us and there for good. 

So, out of destruction and sadness I find gratitude. I am even more grateful today, which I never thought possible, that this community selected me to be the Federation’s President & CEO. I am even more grateful and proud to call myself a Dallasite. We are strong, resilient, compassionate, entrepreneurial people. We will rebuild. We will heal. And, we will do that together as a community–because that is the power of the collective. That is because your Federation is Here for You. Here for Good.

Mariam Shpeen Feist
President & CEO 

Watch how the power of collective took us from devastation to gratitude in the wake of the October 20 tornado.