Skip To Content

A hurricane named Beryl, an agonizing plight straight out of the Book of Job

In Houston, residents without power find themselves in a drama of biblical proportions

For those following events in my hometown of Houston, you will know that Beryl — the Category 1 hurricane that pummeled Houston three days ago — has been compared to other hurricanes we have weathered, notably Ike and Harvey, as well as the derecho that pounded us just a few months ago.

But there is a different kind of rapidly rotating storm system that offers a more suggestive and, well, scriptural parallel for the event that, as I write, has left more than a million residents still without power to run not just their air conditioners, but also oxygen and dialysis machines. (One woman died yesterday when her oxygen machine, which she switched to battery power, failed.)

But as the mercury inches towards three digits today, Beryl has also left us without answers to why this happened. This is a situation not unlike the one in which Job finds himself when, reduced to a bewildered old man bereft of home and family, he also demands an answer. After an agonizingly long wait, Job is confronted by a whirlwind, a supernatural storm from which a thundering voice offered an answer that is, to be perfectly honest, not much of an answer.

A Texas Standard version of the Book of Job, with an assist from Robert Alter’s brilliant translation, stars a Houston energy customer, skin boiling in Houston heat and hand grasping a dying smart phone. At wit’s end, he calls out, “He knows the way with me, tests me, and I come out with a gold credit rating.” Taking a slug of warm Gatorade, the Customer continues, “His way I kept, and I did not swerve to pay my bills. From his notices I did not turn and stored them in a drawer where I also keep warnings from the Home Owners Association about my faded siding.”

And yet all of this had been to no avail. “I scream to you, and you do not answer. I stand still and you do not observe me. I stare at this screen, and you cannot maintain a power outage map. Where in Genesis is the creation of Whataburger, whose map has proved more reliable than yours?” Glancing at his darkened screen, the Customer moans, “Yet, he wants but one thing and who can divert him? What he desires he will do — namely, to care not a fig and to be left alone.”

Our local deity, CenterPoint Energy, answers its Customer in a whirlwind of shock and awe, circumlocution and deflection. “Who is this who disturbs my board meeting in words without the knowledge that we own? Gird your loins, miserable Houstonian, that I may remind you that I fixed the measures of these power lines and stretched them across the suburbs. Moreover, I remain committed to working around-the-clock to restore service as safely and quickly as possible and have mobilized nearly 12,000 field resources to support our restoration efforts.”

Wagging the Gatorade bottle toward the heavens, the Customer interrupts: “But why were not those 12,000 resources, many of them from out-of-state, not already in position before the storm? Just today, three days after the storm, a caravan of repair trucks from the neighboring region of the Alabamites lumbered past me. Why?”

The voice from the whirlwind thunders a bit defensively, “I don’t have that specific information.” But, never mind as the voice continues, “Have you ever commanded the morning limousine, appointed to take me to my corner suite high above you? Can you send bolts of electricity on their way, and can you  say ‘Amount due: $514.21?'”

The Customer concedes the last point, but still wonders about the preparation for the storm? After all, the Customer and his kin had tracked the storm’s path for days and knew it would barrel into Houston.  “Were you not aware of its arrival, and that it upon its arrival it would be greater than the Behemoth, if not quite as great as sthe Leviathan?” After a long pause, the voice from the whirlwind replied, “Well, it made more of an impact to our area than many believed was going to happen.”

Lost for words, the Customer confesses, “I did not understand the wonders that are beyond me that I did not know,” and went in search of the nearest cooling station. As he walks away, he hears the voice from the whirlwind one last time, “We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.”

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.