I am reading the nonfiction book STORY OF A SECRET STATE: MY REPORT TO THE WORLD by non-Jewish Polish WWII resistance fighter Jan Karski (first published in 1944 before the end of WWII).
While talking about each individual doing whatever he or she needed to do to survive, Karski also talked about the “ten commandments” of resistance for the Poles that “became bywords on the tongues and in the hearts of these oppressed people.”
I want to talk about why reading these words now has so impacted me:
The day after Rosh Hashanah I was in a local pharmacy in Beverly Hills, California. An older man wearing jeans, a tucked-in shirt, and his tzitzit hanging out stood near me at the counter. He was wearing a bandana over his mouth and nose rather than the mandated mask.
He said to the pharmacist, “Maybe you can convince me to get vaccinated. I’m not vaccinated.”
And he then added that he gets the flu shot each year and gets all the other vaccines he is supposed to get.
I looked at my husband, and he nodded that he agreed that I should say something to this man.
I calmly said to the man: “You’re frum. This is pikuach nefesh and community responsibility.”
He yelled at me: “That won’t fly!”
And I have been upset ever since this encounter, especially as 1) he had surely been at Rosh Hashanah services in person the previous two days and 2) protected himself with a flu shot yet wouldn’t protect the community from possible infection with the Delta variant.
Thus when I read Karski’s descriptions of the Polish resistance efforts to safeguard the continuation of the Polish people, I became even angrier at this man’s attitude.
When as an elementary school student in Elgin, Illinois, I was taken with my classmates to a nearby hospital for a polio shot, no one questioned that this was good for the individual as well as the community. What has happened to this concept of community responsibility?
And as Jews, we should be even more committed to protecting the welfare of the entire community (even before considering how Jews not getting vaccinated could fuel conspiracy theories about Jews and the spreading of the virus).
When I compare the simple act of getting vaccinated to protect the community with what Jan Karski did to protect the Polish people, I despair for the future of humanity.
As a vaccinated community, we can sharply reduce the number of people who will die from the Covid plague in the coming year.
Thus as we spend Yom Kippur in prayer and reflection, let us consider that at this time protecting our Jewish community and the world community from destruction can be as simple as being vaccinated.
Surely this is not too much to ask of each individual on behalf of community responsibility.