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Fatal fictions and timely truths

The road forward requires that we hold accountable those who denied the truth about this pandemic and cost the lives of our loved ones
A funeral director wears personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns while collecting a body at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Thursday, April 9, 2020, in Brooklyn, New York. New York state posted a record-breaking number of coronavirus deaths for a third consecutive day even as a surge of patients in overwhelmed hospitals slowed, while isolation-weary residents were warned Thursday the crisis was far from over. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A funeral director wears personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns while collecting a body at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Thursday, April 9, 2020, in Brooklyn, New York. New York state posted a record-breaking number of coronavirus deaths for a third consecutive day even as a surge of patients in overwhelmed hospitals slowed, while isolation-weary residents were warned Thursday the crisis was far from over. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Since early March, we’ve learned and accommodated all we can about living in a world with COVID-19. We’ve squeezed out of every metaphor everything that’s cynical and humorous, and we’ve braved Passover online and philosophized about an 11th plague.

As mid-April nears, it’s time to enter a new stage. Data in my city reveal that, even under current physical distancing and stay-at-home restrictions, we won’t peak until late April or early May. It means that we have another 4-6 weeks, at a minimum, of living and working apart. It also means that we have to enter a time of learning about what to do next. We begin by asking how this began, how it became a pandemic, what did we do right and wrong as a nation, and, after we recover from it, how we can we prepare for the future?

In their book, The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It, the authors, Jonathan Quick and Daniel Fryer, are unequivocal in their assessment and warning. With data and evidence from previous world health threats, including Ebola and SARS, they maintain, “We know how to stop the next epidemic. There is no excuse for unpreparedness. If we are to save ourselves and our children we must act decisively. The threat is real. The pathway is known. The time for action is now.” Their reference to “now” was two years ago. It wasn’t just their hunch; it was their medical and professional conclusion.

In a 2018 article in The Guardian, Jonathan Quick, writes about “Fatal Fictions and Timely Truths.” He explains, “In the face of an epidemic, terror, blame, rumors and conspiracy theories, distrust of authorities and panic can take hold simultaneously. This is why establishing and maintaining trust through honest, clear communication at local level is paramount. History continues to show us that health communication lies at the heart of epidemic control. Fighting rumor with truth is a job for professional communication teams working with local and national governments, international agencies, communities, print and broadcast media and social media.” Again, their directives were proposed two years ago, before COVID-19, but not before all the evidence was clearly before them and those who should have known.

Sometimes there’s no point in looking backwards, but in a pandemic that brings down the global economy and threatens human life, there are myriad reasons to look back, seek understanding, and hold accountable those who should have known and did nothing or too little too late. How many lives are an “acceptable” loss in an age of a preventable pandemic? Don’t ask the families of those whose loved ones perished alone in a hospital or at home. Ask the people whom Quick and Fryer would call imposters because they’ve stood in places meant for experts. The authors were prophetic in their advice without aiming to be, but overlooked when they urged, “The time for action is now.” Though we’re surely beyond the point they ever imagined we’d be, it isn’t too late to heed their advice.

It’s time to do our part. Let’s continue to thank those who have come to our aid selflessly and generously; let’s accede only to leaders who share our vision for a future founded on life-affirming rights and principles for all; and, let’s hold accountable those who denied us the truth and cost lives of beloved family, friends and neighbors. In a world that knows about COVID-19, we must prepare ourselves before we can prepare generations hence to understand the evidence, the consequences, and their responsibility.

There is no Jewish mission greater than, “Uvacharta b’chayyim,” Choose life! (Deuteronomy 30). We express gratitude for life in worship; we learn about our Jewish duty to perform life-affirming mitzvot (commandments); and, we engage in the larger world to promote healing and wholeness. We wish for the world what we wish for ourselves: health, prosperity, and peace.

About the Author
Rabbi Lyon is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, Houston, Texas. Lyon can be heard on iHeartRadio's Podcast "Heart to Heart w/Rabbi David Lyon" on Sunny99.com. He is the author of the book "God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime" (Jewish Lights 2011), available at Amazon.com. He is a V.P. of the CCAR (Central Conference of America Rabbis) Board of Trustees. In Houston, Lyon serves as Board member of the United Way of Greater Houston; Advisory Board member of Holocaust Museum Houston; and Board Member of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston.
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