Fear and Loathing in the Time of Corona

Almost two months ago, (which seems now like several lifetimes away), while I was in Washington D.C. attending AIPAC, I had dinner with one of my cousins. She is “the Harvard professor” (when you grow up in a Budapesti /Hungarian Jewish home, even if you’re raised in North America, you are known by the following: your degrees and where you got them; what your family does -and how good looking you are); and, putting it politely, my cousin’s political views and mine do not exactly correspond. Without divulging much, suffice it to say that a very passionate, intense and rather heated conversation concerning American politics ensued, so much so that my darling daughter, Tiphaera, who was in D.C. with me gave us both what could be basically termed a “time out”.

When I returned to Toronto a week later, I sent my cousin an email, saying I hoped I hadn’t offended her. She wrote me back, saying that with our fiery backgrounds, it was to be expected that we would be volatile and impassioned, and that we could agree to disagree and continue to love each other.

Cut to one month later:

I get a phone call from one of my dearest friends, someone who I have been close to for nigh on half a century (I can’t believe that, even as I write it!); someone with whom I have travelled through Life together- boyfriends, breakups, marriages, divorces, deaths and births- traumas and tragedies, accomplishments and victories; in short, everything that Life can -and will -dole out.

We were “life-ers”..or, so I thought.

When you have known someone for as many years as I have known her, when you have experienced as many calamities together as we have, you learn to recognize when a “hello” which is fraught with tension and powerful negative emotion.

It was that kind of ‘’hello’’ I heard when I answered the phone. I knew something was radically wrong and I immediately said ”What’s the matter?”

This is the conversation that ensued.

Her:” Do you like Trump?”
Me: “W-h-a-t?”
Her: -voice rising- “I said, do you like Trump?”
Me: “What are you talking about?”
Her: -voice now strident -“So-and-so was on your Facebook page –and she said that on your Facebook page you said that you like Trump! Do you like Trump?”
Me: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Her: -by now, her voice in full hysteria- “You posted on your Facebook page that you like Trump!”
She continued, virtually screeching at me:
“Trump said the coronavirus was a hoax, so then that means that you also believe it is a hoax!”

I was in complete shock and began to reply: ”This is just ridiculous…”

I couldn’t say another word because she then said ”We can’t be friends anymore” and -hung up.

I just stood there, my mouth open, holding the phone and listening to a dead line.

That was more than a month ago.

I haven’t heard a word from her since.

This is someone I grew up with, had sleepovers with, shared new relationships with, then break ups, then new relationships–we have shared happiness and tragedy and all the serious stuff in between- children being born, parents dying, living our life experiences together, since we were children.

Now she wouldn’t talk to me anymore? Now she wouldn’t be my friend anymore? Why? Because of a president that neither one of us can even vote for (we’re Canadian)? Really?

I have been thinking about this situation ever since.

My first reaction was to create excuses for her. She had recently been through some very traumatic situations so initially, I gave her the benefit of the doubt, trying to be ‘understanding’.

Then, I was sad.

When that passed, I became furious -at the accusation, the patronizing attitude, the judgment, the sheer audacity of being accused, tried, convicted and banished without even being asked any pertinent questions, or asking me my thoughts, or even attempting to ask me the “whys” and the “what’s”, on this matter.

After that, I became extremely analytical and decided to delve into what had happened- and why.

The absurdity of the entire situation was evident from the get-go; how could I ever even be accused of believing that “the coronavirus was a hoax”? My daughter and I had already been in self-imposed quarantine for a month when this conversation happened; when we returned from D.C., we had decided to err on the side of caution and to self isolate before anyone in Toronto even thought about doing it; my friend knew this (we always checked in with each other whenever either one of us travelled and we had an entire conversation about it as well) so how could she possibly accuse me of thinking the virus was a hoax?

I then checked my Facebook page to look for the offending article wherein I had supposedly said “that I liked Trump.”

When I found the article in question, I saw that I had written over top of the article, in the header- verbatim- “Even if you don’t like Trump, please read the following article”.

The article happened to have been a rebuttal written by Republicans in response to the Democrats’ accusations against Trump -including the issue of Trump supposedly calling the coronavirus a “hoax”.

The Republican position was that what Trump said concerning the coronavirus “being a hoax” had been taken out of context and without consideration of a timeframe to contextualize it.

So, according to my friend’s logic, If I didn’t like Trump, then why would I post an article like this on my Facebook?

Here is my answer.

It doesn’t really matter whether or not I like Trump.

This is what is at issue here.
Right now, the amount of bitterness and acrimony amongst people over differing political ideologies is frightening- amongst all political groups. The intolerance, the lack of respect, the name –calling and the demonization of the “other” has become the norm. We all seem to be recreating the Tower Of Babel, where there is no dialogue and communication, only blame, nastiness and intolerance and where any form of honest discourse no longer exists.

As civilization, we must re-learn to agree to disagree. Fundamentally, this is an issue of mutual respect and a willingness to communicate, a willingness to listen, a willingness to discuss and argue and debate, and a willingness to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the “other side” might have a point, or a way of looking at events that maybe you haven’t yet considered.

In politics, as in life, there are there are always nuances, possibilities, new information. Politics, like life, is never black and white; it is always shades of gray, of interpretation.

In this particular situation, I have to ask: what if I only “liked” some of Trump’s policies? How much would I have to “not like” him to be acceptable to my erstwhile friend? Or, if I like any part of any of his policies or decisions- am I counted out?

Does that justify destroying a lifelong friendship?

There is a much larger, more ominous and insidious aspect to this entire situation, one that is really the crux of this matter.

True journalism is dead.

True ‘reporting’ no longer exists. In this world of the internet, of pictures being photo -shopped, of sound clips being edited, of video being montaged, of interviews being manipulated, of opinions being ‘tweaked’, anything and everything that anyone watches or listens to is no longer ‘real’. We now have panelists on news “shows” that tell us what to think, who to like, who to hate or denigrate or misquote. The same principal holds true for the Right as the Left as the Middle (which hardly even exists anymore) Now, we are, en masse, subjected to opinions and viewpoints, that are dependent on manipulated, misquoted, spliced together, edited, voiced over, strategically manipulated ‘news’-this is anything but reporting.

How do I personally deal with this situation?

I educate myself by reading, listening and watching as many diverse “information” sources as possible; I watch C.N.N., Fox News, C.B.C., EuroNews, B.B.C., C.T.V.,-even R.T. (Russian T.V.!), so I have many opinions to glean from and get some idea of what could possibly be really happening; I then make it a point of presenting as many sources, as many differing opinions as possible on Facebook (my current medium of choice).

Why? Because I want to present differing points of view so people at least question and think, instead of just blindly accepting one point of view or another. It is about challenging, demanding, delving into “information”, to assess what is being said and by whom, obtaining information from many sources so people can be more informed overall. Too many people blindly accept their “news”, not questioning even the most slanted versions of “information”.

Why is this so important? Because we all have an enormous responsibility, much bigger than just ourselves and our own “points of view”. It is in the questioning, it is in the challenging of what is “real’ and what is “spin” that we uphold democratic ideals- true democratic ideals, not the ones that are being created in spin factories or by catering to only one group or another.

The world is in an exceptionally dangerous place right now and it is vitally important and essential that people start to question again, to reason again, to think again.
It is just too easy –and too irresponsible- to just to take anybody’s word for anything anymore; it turns people into lemmings, just marching mindlessly towards any cliff that they are being directed towards.

We must get back to a place of compassion, of mutual respect, of a willingness to hear, to listen, to learn.

When my children were young, as they sat at our dinner table, I would ask them to defend a political issue. As they finished, I would ask them to defend the other side of the argument. When they asked me why, I explained to them that you must always have compassion and develop an understanding for an opposing viewpoint, for without that, there can be no real communication, no movement, no change.

At this time of year, just after Passover, there are two important Jewish events that are particularly poignant and relevant to this year- and to my sad little story.

Rabbi Akiva, a great and much loved Jewish scholar lived during the time of Roman domination of Israel. He and his 24,000 dedicated students were considered the cream of Jewish intelligentsia at the time and his motto “love thy neighbor as thy self” lives on throughout history.

Tragically, all his students died, supposedly by a plague.

Why? According to Jewish sages, from a biblical perspective and with mystical understanding, there was a reason.

Rabbi Akiva had taught his students to love each other- but he did not teach them to respect each other! The result was that they did not listen to each other’s opinions nor to differing points of view; they could never agree on matters of importance. They did not communicate with each other and therefore they lived without an essential clarity and without a sense of unity or cohesion.

The concept of respect, of allowing for different ideas and viewpoints is such an inherent Jewish value, that G-d makes a point of emphasizing throughout our history.

The second event involves Moses’ sister, Miriam, a hero of the Jewish people in her own right. She was the spirit, the essential “Ruach” of the Jews as they wandered throughout the desert. She sang, keeping the Israelites’ spirits high, helping them stay upbeat and positive. Yet, even Miriam who was so loved and admired by the Jewish people was struck with a serious affliction by
G-d. Why? Because of her lack of respect of Moses.

When Miriam defamed Moses in front of other people, she slandered him and his good name; thus, the crime of “Loshan Hora” was introduced to the Jewish people.

In the Jewish religion, one of the worst crimes one can commit is loshan hora- “speaking the evil word.” When someone casts aspersions on a person or speaks badly of them it is considered as committing what is perceived in biblical terms, as “soul murder”. Once a person’s good name or intention or reputation is damaged by the spoken or written word, it can never be undone. Once uttered or read, the words are there, in the ether, in the world, for eternity, never to be taken back.

So, for her crime of ‘’loshan hora’’, G-d struck Miriam with an affliction, a virus- a plague.

Miriam then had to be quarantined- for fourteen days.

Isn’t it extraordinary- here we are, two thousand years later, in the year, 2020, in the same quarantine mode that was written in the Bible, about Miriam.

It seems that two thousand years later, we still haven’t learned the lessons we need to learn.

We are living through very challenging times; people are living in an altered state, an altered reality, an altered world. Everything is and will be impacted, for quite a while yet.

Many things are in a state of flux; peoples’ health, their well being, their economic realities are all under attack, by forces much bigger than themselves. It is a time where fear, intolerance and alienation can grow exponentially with serious and potentially tragic consequences and it is a time where calm, understanding, acceptance, dialogue and communication are of paramount and vital importance.

Everyone must try harder to get along, everyone has to become more open and ready, not just to speak, but to listen, to hear, to learn, to discuss, to debate- always with mutual respect and civility. It is time to behave in a civilized manner, as civilized people, and to create a civilized world. It really is time.

Stay safe, everyone.

The CoronaVirus is not a hoax.

About the Author
Vivienne Grace Ziner is a vociferous and outspoken activist, advocate, writer and speaker for international human rights, the global advancement of human dignity and the cause of Israel and the Jewish people.
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