By Alex Lazarus-Klein
After 10 years in Buffalo, I should know by now what it means to be Buffalo Strong. I learned it my first snowfall here when my office staff kindly instructed me that 3 inches did not excuse me from coming to work.
I learned it during my first Hanukkah when it snowed so hard that I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me and services were not canceled. And I certainly learned it that first February in 2009, when people gathered far and wide to support one another after the crash of Flight 3407.
I remember distinctly standing in the lobby of the hotel the Red Cross had transformed into a support center on Flint Road, listening to the amazement of the hardy volunteers who had flown in from all over the country about how helpful everyone was, how genuinely caring. They had never seen anything like it in any of their other travels.
But over the years I have seen that Buffalo Strong extends much beyond crisis situations, bad weather, and perennial losing sports teams. I see Buffalo Strong when religious leaders from all faiths come together at a moment’s notice to support change. I see it when our city opened up its arms to wave upon wave of refugees from all over the world. I see it on countless trips to Niagara Square, when people, young and old, gather – in below freezing weather, in torrential rain – simply to stand up for what they believe in.
Yes, Buffalonians are special; the people you want when the chips are down, when you have no choice but to push ahead.
However, I would like to explore what the saying Buffalo Strong means not from the perspective of the people who live in Western New York, but from the actual animal that gives our city our name. An animal whose image fills our landscape, on highways and byways, outside hospitals and business centers, and yet until recently I knew so little about.
While the ones you encounter at the Buffalo Zoo may seem tame, the American bison – popularly called a buffalo – is perfectly equipped for the challenges all of us face today. In addition to great strength the bison is blessed with several other incredible powers.
First, while she may look large and lumbering, she is actually faster than the deer that roam these parts and certainly faster than any of us humans, galloping at speeds of 30 miles an hour or more. Go ahead and try to get away; this beast will track you down.
The second power is somewhat unusual. Ever hear of wallowing? This is not wallowing in sadness, but a technique used by bison to clean themselves and mark their territory. To do so, they get down on the ground and roll around in the dust, creating large indentations in the ground known as buffalo wallows. Check it out on YouTube.
But, the last power is my favorite. It has to do with what they do when storm clouds are forming over the horizon. Unlike a cow that tries to outrun the incoming winds and rain (you can imagine how that goes), the bison waits and watches. As the storm clears the nearest mountaintop, she charges straight toward it, moving as fast as she can to safety on the other side. What an amazing survival skill. If the storm is coming, I’m finding the nearest bison to see my way through.
In Buffalo we have faced our fair share of storms. But, we are Buffalo Strong because we have the strength of bison.
Alex Lazarus-Klein is rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom in Williamsville and a proud Buffalonian.