When Irma Came Calling
OpinionEditor's Notebook

When Irma Came Calling

A falling tree brings home what's truly important in life.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Irma was just beginning to hit East Cobb hard when this tree toppled from a neighbor's yard onto the AJT editor's house Sept. 11.
Irma was just beginning to hit East Cobb hard when this tree toppled from a neighbor's yard onto the AJT editor's house Sept. 11.

The Rosh Hashanah issue always is the biggest of the year for the Atlanta Jewish Times. While we’re not at the heights of the late 1990s, when the page count approached 180, this week’s issue is 108 pages, marking the first time in too many years that we’ve reached triple digits.

We are somewhere between grateful and elated that nearly 80 Jewish organizations contributed columns for this issue. Those articles enable us to produce a newspaper that reflects the strength and vibrancy of this community for any visitors and for any locals sampling Jewish engagement at the High Holidays. The fact that so many organizations want to be in this issue also shows that the AJT has an enduring, important place in Jewish Atlanta.

Still, our staff is organized to put out 32 to 48 pages a week, so we have just about all we can handle with the Rosh Hashanah issue each year, even without a giant hurricane bearing down on us and causing the first tropical storm warning here since such inland warnings began in 2000.

Normally, in the great tradition of newsroom gallows humor, we would greet horrible weather with jokes about kayaking to the printer or deploying the spare ark all Jewish newspapers keep in storage.

But Irma stopped being funny at 2:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11.

That’s when a massive tree — probably a water oak, but I slept through the course in arboriculture in college — escaped a neighbor’s yard and crushed the roof on my East Cobb house.

There’s no mix of emotions quite like what you feel when your wife calls you just as you’re starting the 20-minute drive home with that news.

Not just that the tree is so big that it has crushed the wooden fence on one side of the house, smashed into and partially through the roof, and decapitated another tree on the opposite side of the house. Not just that branches have broken into the kitchen and that the walls have buckled, so that rain is dripping and splashing in from all directions. Not just that the central beam across your sharply peaked living room ceiling is now dangling, with a clear view of the blackening daytime sky in its place.

But that your wife, the mother of your two grown sons, was sitting in that living room when items flew off the walls with the impact.

I’m still in shock about what happened to our house. I appreciate the offers of help from friends and colleagues, including one of our ad sales managers who herself lost two cars to falling trees in the storm. I’m thankful to an insurance agent who proved his worth within minutes of the disaster and to the hotel employees who waived their usual pet rules so that our three cats could shelter with us through the storm.

Our house didn’t used to have a skylight in the living room.

I’m worried, of course, about the extent of the damage and the time and expense of repairing it, and once we dig into the mess and see what we’ve lost, I’ll no doubt miss some of those things.

But what has kept me calm and ensured a dose of perspective is that image of my wife sitting in the living room when the tree fell and the thought of what could have happened if the house hadn’t been much better built than I ever realized.

I didn’t lose what matters, and I’ll have all the more reason to be thankful when the family gathers for Rosh Hashanah.

I just hope I don’t meet any Irmas at services.

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