With another winter storm bearing down on the East Coast, even many of the youngsters who usually find a significant snowfall to be a delightful development, aren’t finding it amusing. The repeated snowstorms and stinging cold temperatures have taken a toll on the infrastructure, battering pipes and pavements and breaking water mains. It was recently reported that New York City crews filled 69,000 potholes in five weeks — nearly twice as many as during the same time period a year earlier.
The weather is also taking a serious toll on the lives of many people, especially among the older members of the population. Walking on ice-covered streets is a frightening and draining experience at any age, but as one gets older, the fear of falling and causing serious injury becomes far more worrisome. Forced to stay home day after day, these folks feel cooped up, imprisoned in their own homes. Individuals who thrive on the regular routine of going to shul, attending a shiur, shopping at local stores, attending an exercise group or volunteering at a hospital find their sources for inspiration and outlets for relaxation cut off. Even if they manage to make their purchases over the phone and have the items delivered, and their basic needs are met, lack of companionship and fresh air can have a harmful effect on their health.
It isn’t only the elderly that find themselves in this situation. Some mothers with young children find making their way on the ice and snow-filled streets with a carriage — let alone a double stroller — so challenging, that they just stay home.
For others, staying home isn’t an option even in the most treacherous of conditions. Infant children of working mothers have to be brought to babysitters, and for some seniors, staying home from shul or shopping on the phone just doesn’t come under consideration.
We don’t know why our Creator saw fit to give us such a winter; we do know that this is all part of the Master Plan for the benefit of humanity. But we are obligated to do our part in these difficult circumstances.
It is imperative that homeowners shovel the sidewalks in front of their properties as soon as the snow stops falling. Ice — especially if it is thin and hardly noticeable — can be far more dangerous than snow. Properly applying salt and, when necessary, using an ice-chopper to ensure that the pavement is really clear of dangerous obstacles, is crucial.
Homeowners who are vacationing out of town are still responsible for their properties, and are obligated to arrange that the sidewalks are taken care of. If they fail to do so, it is a genuine act of kindness and an exhibition of communal responsibility for a caring neighbor to step in and shovel in their stead.
Keeping our sidewalks clear is a legal and moral obligation that will help minimize the amount of time that the older members of our community will be “imprisoned” in their homes. Additionally, it is vital that family members, friends and neighbors stop by as often as possible to provide companionship and make sure that all needs are being met.
Like the rays of the sun, warm acts of kindness do much to dispel the ice and cold of this frigid winter.