By Linda D. Pollack
It’s Monday night in January, in Buffalo, New York, not just any Monday, but, the first Monday of the New Year 2023. The Bills are playing Monday Night Football on National Television. It could be their year to go all the way to the Super Bowl. The team holds the pent-up yearnings of our community in its’ collective heart. Supporting the Bills is not only a symbol of love and loyalty, but, signifies identity and meaning, in our communal sense of achievement and longed for recognition. This particular Monday came after the December blizzard, a major winter storm. Buffalo made international headlines for its’ “bomb cyclone.” Ten days of travel cancellations nationwide, 10 days prior to Christmas, during Chanukah, and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
It wasn’t the Grinch that stole the holidays, it was the fierce wicked wind that drifted us in with deep snow. It kept us apart, because we couldn’t move, leaving us powerless in so many ways.
Buffalonians need that full throated, heart beating, roar of togetherness. A cheer for excellence, beauty, human accomplishment that can be resoundingly heard. You can hear it, experience it at a Bills game, a Sabres game, a Canisius UB basketball game, and at a Buffalo Philharmonic concert.
Many neighbors reached out to one other to check in, finding out if anything was needed. Did they have power, heat, food? The stories of the storm will be told for years.
Much needed help came when they could get through. Volunteer firefighters, first responders, medical teams, snowmobilers all pitched in to help and people. Thirty-five died. Miraculously about five days later, some of us could see grass, not walls of snow.
A century before Christ, a man demanded to be taught the whole of Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel, the Elder, said: “Love your neighbor as yourself. The rest is commentary.”
The game begins. Damar Hamlin, number three, a young cornerback, in peak physical condition lines up. He takes a hit during the first quarter of the Bills-Bengals game. He stands up and then collapses on the field. Immediately, he is surrounded by players from both teams. They form a cluster of privacy and caring, some drop to their knees to pray, some cry as concern overtakes them. The emergency action plan for trauma kicks in. Swift efforts brought him back from cardiac arrest. These efforts may have been crucial to his long-term wellbeing.
“What we say in medicine is we’ve got four minutes. If we can start effective CPR within four minutes of a patient going down, we can have a good neurological outcome,” says Dr. Anne B. Curtis MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor.
The humanitarian instinct – the urge to help others in distress is at least as old as humanity itself. It is understood to have persisted through our evolution because it benefits our survival.
What happens next?
“What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times. AND YOU WERE THERE!” Walter Cronkite.
Unlike an introduction to a TV show about past historical events, this event happened in real time. In real time, what does it mean to see something in real time today? It means to be present at that moment, not only in person, but on your TV screen, on your computer, your laptop, or your phone.
Not a newsreel showing moving footage of WWI and WWII removed from real time. The horror of seeing left a deep impression and the news had already been reported in print. The ten-year engagement of the U.S., in the Vietnam War changed that method of seeing the news. Electronic News Gathering, ENG, brought war and horror into our homes on TV.
George Booth, drew edgy cartoons for the New Yorker during that time. I can recall one with a couple hiding behind a chair. In front of the chair is a TV in a console – the cartoon shows a title “The Nightly News.” The caption is “Is it over yet?”
On January 2nd in real time, Damar Hamlin collapsed in front of us, not only in the Cincinnati stadium, but across the country on every imaginable device. In an immediate 21st century way.
What happens next?
The Good Samaritan in us kicked in. The parable shines a light on humans stopping to help a stranger in peril. Time stops for them.
Collective, helplessness and worry set in for Damar. The conversation in our community about Damar’s collapse and hospitalization was everywhere. Two days later, a two-year-old Go Fund Me page is revived. The Chasing M’s Foundation which is a vehicle to bring lasting support to children in McKees Rock, PA, Damar Hamlin’s Foundation. Donations of all amounts from all over begin pouring in with generosity and hope. As of this writing, 248,000 individuals have donated more than $9 Million dollars to a stranger, a friend, a colleague in peril.
Damar’s frightening injury triggered an emotional groundswell of financial support for his foundation, largely because the foundation was created by him and is a charitable cause for concerned donors to express their support for him in a fast and meaningful way. Broadcast events can make people feel more intimately connected to this and other tragic events because of the immediacy of the coverage and the realization that tragedy can strike any of us at any time. This heightened awareness and sense of connection inspire giving.
The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies helps individuals and families fulfill their aspirations to financially support causes that inspire them, and make an enduring impact, through efficient charitable vehicles.
Philanthropy: loving mankind – to work for the benefit of others. Greek philein meaning to love, anthropos (as in anthropology) meaning humankind.
Philanthropist: is a person who donates time, money, experience, skills or talent to help create a better world. Anyone can be a philanthropist regardless of status or net worth.
On Sunday, January 22nd in a game for a playoff spot in the AFC, Damar Hamlin is carefully brought to the Highmark Stadium to watch the game from a box. Doctors say it is “fairly remarkable.” His recovery is in its beginning stages.
The Bills meet the Bengals. The trauma, the shock, mental and emotional health concerns, the uncertainty, and disruption is not over, not for the players, not for us, or for Damar or his family. Cognitive shocks will be with us even as athletes excel in competition.
The Bills lose 27-10. The season is over.
Everything that can happen, happens in Buffalo!
Buffalo. “How do I love thee. Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth, and breath, and height my soul can reach.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Life in Buffalo has been a polycrisis for decades, this old word captures the sensations of cascading shocks. Our post-industrial community went through more than one generation of decline and status quo. Shifts in the corporate worlds and job markets caused our educated young to find careers where other opportunities were available. That movement of the next generation left behind an increasingly poorer community with fewer people. The effect on our Jewish community demographic and economy has diminished dramatically. Our population is now approximately one-third from its mid-20th century high.
Shocking as that all is, a rich and full cultural, intellectual, entertaining, beautiful, loving, naturally abundant life not only persists but thrives in Buffalo.
Buffalo is located on the land of the Haudnosaunee nation, for a thousand years before settlers arrived in the 1770s. This democratic confederacy of six nations, were the keepers of the “Western Door.”
Location has always been the most important reason for our growth.
Our recent polycrisis of cascading shocks, has included Covid-19, politics – local, national, and international, the Racial Massacre of May 14th, two significant storms, the witnessing of Damar Hamlin’s hit in real time, the post-traumatic stress experience of our remarkable football team in a game following Damar’s injury are all part of the recent shocks in Buffalo.
Despite systemic racism, economic inequality, the legacy of the great migration, social divisions, and hierarchies: the power of love and family persist. The humanitarianism of Buffalo’s citizens and neighbors was and is evident, in large measure after the May 14th racial massacre at Tops on Jefferson Avenue. We know now more than ever that systemic racism require systemic change. We can only solve problems if you treat them individually, I would like to quote this African proverb.
“IF YOU WANT TO GO FAST, GO ALONE. IF YOU WANT TO GO FAR, GO TOGETHER.”
I believe in the constant of change and the learnings that transition brings us. What remains central in every pivot, shift, collaboration, is the future. In that regard it is essential we firm up the foundation we have built. “A man’s reach must excel his grasp – or what’s a heaven for.” Robert Browning
The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies is here for you. Visit jewishphilanthropies.org to learn more.
Linda D. Pollack is an experienced community volunteer and team member for Hillel LIFE & LEGACY® at Buffalo.