A Call for Collective Accountability

Last Sunday, I opened my phone to see a notification that my friend from midrasha had suddenly lost her father to corona. I watched the funeral via zoom with around eighty other people. The video quality was too low for me to understand nearly anything being said, but the pain was palpable through the shaky camera lens. Among the few words I did manage to pick up were the ones that struck me the most: “It’s not fair”; of course, it’s never fair. Fairness is never factored in, and it’s just not a barometer that can be applied to personal tragedy.

But this personal tragedy was our failure. We failed this man, not much older than my parents. We failed his family, and hundreds of other families by now. We’re continually failing each other, and I can’t help morbidly wondering how many more zoom funerals I’ll watch, or whether I’ll eventually be on the other side of the screen.

I have high-risk family members; regardless, even healthy people are susceptible. My family learned this fairly early, when my father’s cousin, a father in his early thirties with no underlying conditions, ended up in a coma for weeks from corona. His recovery has been a complicated and ongoing process. I will never forget how desperately my father worked, day and night, quarantined from a recent business trip, to find some medication that could help, and the way my Oma a”h had never sounded so terrified as when she mentioned my cousin in my calls before Shabbos.

From the beginning, my expectations in society as a whole were honestly not very high, which is why I never experienced the degree of disappointment others have expressed to me. In terms of our government, I think I’d be in good company to say how extremely disappointed I am in their handling of the pandemic- from the inconsistency in public health enforcement, to lack of adequate communication, to their increasing of mistrust in authority, to raising political tension and division further amid the preexisting unrest (although at least here the politicization of basic health protocol hasn’t gone as far as it was taken in the United States, but that would be a depressingly low standard to hold).

As a teenager, I understand all too well the assumptions of invincibility, the questioning of authority, the pull of short-term comfortability that often blurs the long-term picture. Generally I felt like I was being less careful than I should be (often I was) and although it upset me a bit to see how flippant much of my age group was in this country, I knew it was inevitable; and until recently, it didn’t feel like the end of the world to meet with friends a handful of times, or to forget occasionally to pull up my mask- in my head it was easy to contrast it with the multitudes of people my age in cities like Tel Aviv going clubbing or to crowded beaches. But now, with active cases in the tens of thousands, and having surpassed eight thousand new cases in one day just over a week ago, it is absolutely the end of the world. It’s the end of the world of the next person who dies from the virus; it’s the end of the world for the person who commits suicide in quarantine; it’s the end of the world for everyone who loves them.

My siblings had corona scares a few weeks ago. Getting tested myself felt surreal. The extent to the relief at receiving the negative results cemented the feeling that had been growing since March that I’d entered an alternate reality. On Rosh Hashana, I had never felt so morally guilty. It could’ve been through my carelessness that families’ finances were wrecked, that our hospitals are overwhelmed, that people are sick and dying. I realized, though, that despite me testing negative, it still is. Because do the actions of the individual affect the norms of society, or do the societal norms affect individual behavior? Both. Ashamnu.

The equation was never as simple as it is now. Staying home for weeks is difficult, following regulations can be a huge pain. Rearranging, minimizing or cancelling simchas can be sad. But the weeks we stay home are the tradeoff for someone’s week of shiva. The inconvenience of following regulations saves someone suffering from depression from the two weeks of solitude that could be their last. Rescheduling a simcha may well cancel someone else’s funeral.

Corona should never have reached these families who have had their worlds destroyed. We were given free will, and we were given a moral responsibility. It’s up to all of us to do better, not to point fingers at other communities who appear to be doing less. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh.

About the Author
Rivka Atara Holzer made Aliyah from Miami Beach in 2015. She attended Midreshet Lindenbaum and currently serves in the IDF.
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