Cookie Schwaeber-Issan
Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

Being Faithful to Israel While Being Faithful to Ourselves In the Age of Covid

As most of us are daily being inundated with so much troubling and disturbing information, not only concerning Covid but also the response and subsequent policies of our government, we almost need a special GPS to help navigate our way through the very tempting minefields of expressing our frustration- one which could easily be interpreted as anti-Israel sentiment.

It is, indeed, tempting, because when basic freedoms and liberties, we’ve taken for granted, are suddenly gone, the feeling that you can barely leave your house, without having to show proof everywhere you go, can be overwhelming.  The quality of life can feel injured and infringed upon by individuals whose rules now preclude you from occupying the same space as others.

Yet, for most of us, the choice to live in Israel emanated from a dream which remains our desired preference.  So the big question is how can we remain faithful and loyal citizens of Eretz Israel while, at the same time, look out for ourselves as we exercise our freedom to truthfully express what we think during one of the most challenging moments in the history of this nation?

Israel is a country which has endeavored to put the safety and security of its citizens above all else.  While everything may not have been done perfectly, the vast majority of Israeli citizens have always felt that they could count on a preponderance of clear and measured consideration, common sense and shrewd action which our leaders have done their best to display throughout our 73 years of existence.

Yet, during these Covid days of closures, curfews, limited access and restricted freedoms, the tendency can be to blame anyone making what often feels like arbitrary and nonsensical rules, which sometimes have little or no basis in proven science or medical certainty.  Those very privileges which have been taken away have given rise to protests, demonstrations, and the establishment of group chat texting with like-minded individual.  The problem is that within the need to feel supported, passions can easily be enflamed which may then quickly spill over into a highly incendiary direction.  So even if there may be bits and pieces of truth in what is being expressed, it can also end up feeling that someone is speaking badly about your family.  When that happens, you automatically sense a need to come to their defense even if there is some truth to the criticism.

It’s important to remember that when part of the population is being painted as a danger to their fellow citizens because they have exercised their democratic right to not be vaccinated, there is no question that one side gets being pitted against the other.  Of course, the irony is that we now know that both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals are getting and spreading the virus.  The once sure guarantee of being fully protected has now been downgraded to “suffering lighter symptoms” when vaccinated, and if that has become the singular assured benefit, despite some saying that their symptoms were not insignificant, then the decision to be vaccinated should be one left to the conscience of each person.

What becomes tricky in all of this is the intense social peer pressure to conform to the majority as well as the loss of freedoms for those who choose not to comply.

Unquestionably, it is truly frustrating to lose health club privileges, indoor restaurant seating, social events, including weddings and other family occasions held indoors, given that those who are deemed vaccine-protected are also succumbing to Covid.

Yes, it’s easy to point a finger and claim that our government leaders and agencies are making bad calls or guilty of overreach in terms of their response.  But when hearing accusations such as “apartheid measures” or “forcible coercion,” my heart becomes torn for the country I love and the only Jewish homeland in the world which has not only taken such good care of her citizens but also, time and again, come to the aid of so many other countries.

Do I want restrictions to ease up? For sure! Am I willing to see a civil war take place over this horrible and never-ending virus? Not for a minute!!!  It is my hope that we, as a people who have overcome flood, pestilence, banishment, exile, blood libel, Inquisition, Holocaust and more can weather this storm as well.  With strength, resolve and loyalty, we can provide inspiration for one another and for our dear nation, already despised enough by those committed to her demise.  Why would we want to lend a helping hand to our enemies?

Covid, G-d forbid, might be here for a few more months and even years.  We have a choice not to turn on one another but rather to be unified by this anguishing trial.  We have a choice to resist the impulse of labeling each other as “responsible” or “selfish.”  It is surely to our interest to be a light to one another rather than extinguish the greatness which has catapulted us to the forefront as innovators and leaders.  That commitment can only come when we refuse to let anyone speak badly of our family, knowing that we all share the same blood!

We can be loyal to ourselves as we express dissatisfaction and frustration with policies that make no sense, such as outdoor masks or a ban against unvaccinated guests outdoors.  None of that passes the smell test, and considering that there is still so much unknown about the long-term efficacy and safety of the vaccines, everyone might want to take a deep breath and exercise a bit of humility in the face of so many unknowns.

Our people and our country must have first consideration when it comes to keeping the peace.  Coercion, labeling and citizen separation will not contribute to the goal of being a strong and unified people.  To the contrary, it will only do more harm than a virus.  Israel and her people must be our first love, and to that end, we should allow everyone to choose the best decision for themselves without judgment or derision.  If we can all do that, Am Israel Chai will, indeed, be our legacy!

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.