Yakov Saacks
Yakov Saacks

Coronavirus: Troubling reactions

As a communal Rabbi, I get to partake in the ups and downs of many individuals and their family’s respective lives. From cradle to end of life, I try to infuse an additional dose of spirituality and meaning, love, hope and friendship. I recently went to visit a dear congregant and friend who has been in a New York City hospital for the past few weeks. The hospitalization was not due to Covid and the patient was not located on a Covid floor.

It was extremely difficult to gain entry into the hospital. I had to set up special authorization from the higher-ups in order to pay him a visit. This permission took over a week to get and off I went.

I entered the main lobby of the hospital complete with my chaplain badge and a copy of the authorization email. The security guard did not even look at the paperwork but instead told me that I am not getting in. I protested and was told by the other security guard to step aside and move on. I was then cautioned to stop asking to get in. The words were “Sir, you are not getting in – go back home.”

To make a long story short, I called the person who gave the authorization and after a 20-minute wait was allowed through the barricade. Once I got upstairs, a nurse told me to leave the floor as I did not have a visitor’s pass. I basically ignored him as I had enough abuse for the day. I knew they did not give me a pass because passes are limited and if I were in their system, my visit would prevent another relative from visiting.

I must say that I had an easier time visiting prison inmates in Greene, Hudson and Coxsackie correctional facilities.

I was extremely troubled at this sordid episode for a few reasons.


This distasteful episode got me thinking about what Covid has done to society; how it has eroded human contact, friendships, family get-togethers and even chaplain visits to the sick. You see, as humans, we crave human contact. We were created as social beings who are meant to fraternize together. In fact, when a child is being antisocial at school, we immediately run to the best child interventionist we can find who specializes in antisocial behavior in children.


There is another reason why I was so disturbed, and this is my main point. The complete lack of decency displayed by the security people to their fellow human beings was blamed on the dangers of the Covid virus. I think at some level this is true, particularly in a hospital. However, in many cases, and I believe in my story, it was a convenient excuse to belittle people in the name of Covid.

I realized this because there was no follow-through. Once I got through the iron curtain, I was not given a questionnaire that I had to sign affirming that I do not have Covid, I do not live with someone who is quarantined and I have not traveled in the past 14 days. At The Chai Center, we were given instructions that everyone who enters needs to sign their affirmation. My temperature was not taken either. Nothing! No one cared whether I was sick as a dog and a super spreader. I was not asked if I was vaccinated. Zip, nada, gornisht.

This is what Covid has done. It allows people to blame the virus for their poor and irrational behavior. The hospital “Marines” did not really care about Covid at all. They were abusive in its name only.


The way I see it, Covid is much worse than other disasters we have had in recent memory, whether natural or manmade. I am not even talking about the incredible number of deaths; I am referring in addition to the aforementioned, to the lives ruined. Grandparents cannot visit with their children, virtual schooling, lines for basic food shopping and people stuck at home too nervous to venture out. None of the above is natural. In fact, it is insane.


In contrast, we have had other disasters like 9/11, typhoons, tsunamis, forest fires and earthquakes. With these catastrophes we all came together to hug, cry, memorialize, help, support, aid in any way we could. Not only did it not tear us apart, it brought communities together. I realize that Covid is a contagion and therefore different rules of engagement apply. It should not, however, turn us into cold-hearted humans. Meanness in the name of Covid is just plain mean and there is no excuse.

We have to do better.

Please feel free to share.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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