As people who live in the Tri-State area, earthquakes are confusing to us. Our thing is blizzards. Though not recently.

So the recent earthquake left us with a lot of questions, ranging from, “What was that?” to “What if it comes back?”

Hence this FAQ, although not that Frequent, B”H:

Wait, you’re writing about this now? This happened weeks ago!

Well, I was going to write about it before the earthquake happened, but the Link was doing eclipses that week. Also, if the Tri-State area got it a few weeks ago, Baltimore and Canada are probably going to get it around now. So if you have a relative in Baltimore or Canada, you can still let them know.

Also, I feel like we in the Northeast don’t know a lot about earthquake safety, so we should really review it from time to time. And by “from time to time,” I mean “Immediately after the previous one happens, but way before the next one happens.”

When did the last one happen?

According to records, the last time an earthquake this strong hit the area was in 1884.  So you never know. Another 140 years can be over before you know it, and you’ll be like, “I forgot to review earthquake safety via a humor column.”

Where were you when the recent quake happened?

I was playing with an etch a sketch.


No. I was in the kitchen, doing stuff for Shabbos, and I felt vibrations. So I walked into the living room and looked at my son, and he looked at me and said, “What’s happening?” and I said, “It feels like an earthquake, but first let’s check if there’s a heavy truck driving by.” So I looked outside, and by then the quake had stopped, though some workers about a block away were repaving the street, and I wondered if it could have been them.

So how did you find out it was an earthquake?

I looked it up, obviously. “Was that an earthquake?” which is what experts recommend as the first thing you do in an earthquake. And I couldn’t find any results. All I found was a question at the top of the search page that said something like, “There have been reports of a possible earthquake near Tewksbury. Did you feel it?” And there were 3 options to click: Yes, No, and Unsure. So I clicked “Unsure,” because I wasn’t going to start looking up where Tewksbury was, and whether it was even in New Jersey or 4 states over, and for all I knew it was a paving truck on an adjacent block that I hadn’t even looked at.

But then a few minutes later, my wife turned on the radio, and it was on this call-in talk show, and random people had called in to talk to the host about the earthquake. And not a single one of them had anything meaningful to say except, “I thought it was a truck driving by.” Then why did you call in? To say this? Do you not have anything else to do? Do you think you’re the only one on the block who witnessed this earthquake? It was like at the Seder, where every kid has something to say, but no one is listening to the person before them, so they just say the same vort. One guy called in to say, “As soon as things started shaking, I looked at my dog, and he looked at me. And then we both ran for the window to see if it was a truck.”

This was the dog’s first thought too.

Basically, everyone said, “I thought it was a truck,” which taught me two things: #1, we need to do something about our trucks, and #2, none of these callers were from the city, because everyone there thought it was a subway going by.

“Wait. Does the subway run under our house now?”

Or they thought it was someone jackhammering the street.

What did they think it was when this happened in the old days?

They thought it was elephants going by.

In fact, the only people who were not immediately wondering, “Is that a truck driving by?” were the earthquake experts. They were thinking, “Yes, finally! There’s an earthquake up here! It only took 140 years! I thought I wasted my life.” It’s like they were working at the earthquake bureau, which is probably on the west coast somewhere, and they were not great at their job, and then they came to their boss and said, “Where should I be stationed?”

“New Jersey. Stay on high alert over there. You’re all we’ve got.”

But now he’s like, “It’s my time to shine!” And then we got an emergency alert 2 hours after the quake.

People are saying this earthquake was a 4.8. That’s it? Such a high number and that’s all we felt? Don’t they only go up to 9?

Apparently, every number is about ten times as strong as the number before it. So a nine is, if I’m understanding it correctly (don’t count on it), a nine-digit number. We got a 4-digit number.

Basically, earthquakes fall into six categories, and we got the third, which is the one where you think it’s a truck going by, which is just above the ones where someone asks, “Did you feel that earthquake?” and you say, “What earthquake?” but just below the ones where books start falling off the shelves, which will never happen in your house, because your kids push the books as far back as they can, for fun. Though I imagine if you work in a seforim store, it’s a nightmare. Or a crystal shop.

Where do the most earthquakes happen?

I’m no etymologist, but I would say earth. If you’re not on earth, you’re probably okay. Though there’s probably something else you have to worry about. For example, there is also something called a moonquake, though it seems to cause less damage, probably because there aren’t that many buildings on the moon.

No, I mean where should I live if I want to avoid earthquakes?

It doesn’t matter. There’s nowhere you can live where no natural phenomenon can get to you if Hashem wants it to. That’s how life works. At best, you can pick which one it’s most likely to be. Unesaneh Tokef gives you options.

Normally when you think of earthquakes, you think of California, where there is nothing else that can kill you except rampant crime, wildfires, and celebrities. Meanwhile, the two states with the fewest number of earthquakes are Florida and North Dakota, but there is still plenty else that can kill you in those two places. Wildlife, mainly.

You don’t pick a location to live based on natural disasters. You have to pick a place like everyone else does, based on walking distance to shuls. And your ability to make conversation on the way home from those shuls.

“I thought it was my dryer acting up.”

And they can’t even be predicted! 

That’s right. The weather is predicted, though with very little regard to accuracy, but no one predicts earthquakes. No one says, “My kids are home from school for the earthquake.”

Even eclipses are predicted. People make a bigger deal about eclipses, and eclipses apparently look like a cloudy day that you wouldn’t even notice it unless you knew previously that there was going to be an eclipse.

In fact, technically, an eclipse isn’t even an event. The sun is shining on the earth, and the moon literally walks by in between. The only one who notices this is the earth. It’s like in class, where I teach with a projector, and students walk through the light to hand me papers and everyone gets annoyed at them, but they don’t even realize what they did. They just know they were blinded for a moment, and now everyone’s mad at them. It’s like the moon is photobombing the earth.

But no one has their life in shambles from an eclipse. Unless they don’t wear the glasses. And there’s nowhere you can move to permanently avoid eclipses either. Not even the moon, because of lunar eclipses.

Anyway, we’re going to stop here, because we’re almost out of space.

We are? But I still have more frequently asked questions!

That’s a frequently asked question?


Okay, then join us again next week as we look into how earthquakes happen and what to do in case of an earthquake.

What do we do if an earthquake happens before then?

Okay, here’s the procedure, in short:

  1. Stop moving in case it’s you.
  2. Wonder if there’s a truck going by.
  3. Look up, “Was that an earthquake?”
  4. Wait 20 minutes and look it up again.
  5. Wait 2 hours for an emergency alert from the government.

Post this in a good place to read it in case of an emergency, such as under your sturdy furniture.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.