Two weeks ago, I wrote this piece but I didn’t post it. I love too many of the demonstrators and I empathise with many of their causes. I didn’t want to hurt my friends’ feelings. Also, I feel as strongly as anyone that the government has let us down in numerous ways. I would have liked my voice to be heard alongside the voices of others.
But the High Holy Days are upon us and we are supposed to be doing some soul-searching. It is the last chance to rectify our failings of the year. There cannot be regrets for lost opportunities. I DO feel this way and I should speak out.
So I am posting this piece now as a New Year plea.
There is nothing more important in Judaism than saving lives. However irrational, late, selective and partial the government’s latest coronavirus restrictions are, however badly our leaders have let us down, however frustrated we are, it is time for us to put stopping the deadly spread of Covid 19 ahead of anything else.
The message of Rosh Hashana is “choose life.” We pray to be written into the Book of Life. We pray for others to be given the blessing of life. We need to do our bit to save lives.
So here is the piece:
It was courageous to start and now it would show courage to stop. And the time has come for courage.
In normal days I likely would be joining my sisters and brothers protesting at Balfour, particularly my sisters concerned about safety for women in this crazy society, where women are the victims of disrespect, degradation and violence. I would join protests against corruption because I deplore the many failures of our politicians, our legal system, our police, our religious figures and our opinion-leaders.
But these are not normal days.
Our politicians and other so-called leaders are not setting an example, so we who have principles and privilege must do so. Those of us who value life have to do what we can to preserve it. That includes setting an example for others.
We have to stop the demonstrations at Balfour so that the freedoms for which we are fighting can be enjoyed by as many as possible. We have to put the preservation of life first and in the era of Covid 19, it means avoiding large crowds.
There are people less informed and less privileged looking at the protestors and saying that it is a myth that large crowds are dangerous. There are ignorant and not-so-ignorant people saying that if large gatherings are safe in some circumstances, they are safe in all circumstances. There are people who believe that the decision to ban their gatherings is politically motivated. They point out the permission to demonstrate as proof.
And while many of the protesters are careful, others are not. I see unmasked protestors on television and in social media. There are many times when social distancing is just not possible. It frightens me.
You cannot hold a protest and tell only sensible people to come or say that once the space is filled, no-one else will be admitted. That is not the way demonstrations work.
So, I plead with all my friends and colleagues who are protesting, stop, for now, until the spread of Covid 19 subsides.
It is true that there is no evidence that the virus has spread among protesters. But it is spreading wildly in our communities, with fatal consequences. Teenagers see you and see that crowds are safe. Haredim see you and see that crowds are safe. You were there, you are still well. Are you beginning to subconsciously feel that you are safe?
Our elected political leaders will love to have you to blame as the coronavirus death toll rises and, when they do, we will all know that there is an element of truth in their claims. The public is not taking its cue only from corrupt, irresponsible and conniving politicians or hopelessly compromised religious leaders. They are watching you, too.
The real leadership in this country will be a leadership that sets an example and saves lives.
I don’t see it yet but I am hoping that someone will be courageous and say, “Our causes are right but the time is not.”
As the Torah says, first, choose life.