Close to 1000 people have died excruciating, painful deaths from Ebola, the deadly virus sweeping through West Africa in the largest outbreak in history. There is no cure or treatment for Ebola, except for one experimental drug that is not yet proven safe for widespread distribution and only a very small amount of which exists. It starts with a simple fever and in a matter of days transforms into unbearable gastrointestinal symptoms, internal bleeding, and death. Even health care professionals in Africa have not been spared. Sheik Umar Khan, one of the world’s experts on Ebola, was recently killed by the disease. Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria have been nearly shut down by the disease, which is spreading faster and farther every day.
What can we do?
One reason there is no vaccine or treatment is that pharmaceutical companies do not have sufficient financial incentive to develop treatments for this sporadic (it comes and goes in waves every couple of years) and localized (a case has never been reported outside of Africa) disease. Big Pharma knows it will make more money from erectile dysfunction medications than an Ebola vaccine. We should lobby the government and World Health Organization to provide subsidies for the research and development of less lucrative medications. Obviously donating to worthy causes that research Ebola or Doctors Without Borders, which has been risking the lives of its participants to fight this disease, is a noble undertaking for those who can spire dime.
Finally, we can pray. This article is not about the theology of prayer. I hope that our prayers can potentially have an actual effect on the situaiton. At the very least, prayer raises awareness and elicits unity among peoples, which may have theological significance in its own right. Prayer can be powerful even without delving too much into theology, as many of experienced when we were praying for the 3 Israeli teenagers.
I am calling on synagogues and Jewish communal institutions to and raise awareness about the Ebola outbreak and pray for its obliteration. The situation should be on our minds and in our prayers, specifically in Refaenu, the blessing for the sick. I also think a special Misheberakh, prayer for the sick, should be added. For those who find meaning in Psalms, those can be added as well. These extra prayers should not be another thing for us to quickly mumble or to flip through our Siddur or phone while it is being recited, but rather we should pause and let the moment, the idea of the immense suffering of men, women, children, doctors, and nurses in this region of the world, engulf us. Obviously interdenominational and interfaith cooperation in praying for this matter would be even more inspiring.
Here is what I believe should be the text of the Misheberakh (in Hebrew and in English), though feel free to deviate or embellish:
מי שברך אבותינו אברהם יצחק ויעקב ואמותינו שרה רבקה רחל ולאה הוא יברך וירפא את כל מי שמנוגע עם אבולה ויגן על חבריהים ומשפחותיהם ובפרט יגן על הרופאים ואחיות שנסעו לאפריקה. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִמָּלֵּא רַחֲמִים עָלָיהם לְהַחֲלִימם וּלְרַפְּאֹתם וּלְהַחֲזִיקם וּלְהַחֲיוֹתם, וְיִשְׁלַח להם מְהֵרָה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה והגנה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם גִּדיהם בתוך שאר חולי ישראל ויושבי תבל, רְפוּאַת הנפש ורפואת הַגּוּף, הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב. וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן:
He who blessed our patriarchs Abraham, Isaacs, and Jacob, and our Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, He should bless and heal all those stricken with Ebola and protect their friends and families, and specially He should protect the doctors and nurses that have come to Africa. May God act mercifully to make them recover, heal, strengthen, and live, and send them speedily a total physical and spiritual/psychological healing and protection amongst the other sick of Israel and the citizens of the world. May this happen speedily, amen.