The Jewish holidays are around the corner. Hosts everywhere are busily planning their Yom Tov meals and putting together guest lists. This year, however, the guest list raises a new question: Is everyone vaccinated?
I am what is politely referred to as a “senior.” In other words, I’m old. I’m healthy and active, but I am not 25 years old anymore. I have asthma. I am overweight. All of these factors add to my risk of severe complications if I get COVID-19.
A few months ago, I had no problem hosting unvaccinated people in my backyard. Now, as the Delta variant charges across the country, I’m not so sure. If my immunity is not as strong as I thought it was, and if my unvaccinated friends are measurably more likely to be carrying Covid, can I invite them to my home for a holiday meal?
I fear the answer is no.
I have dear friends who decline to be vaccinated. Under ordinary circumstances, I would happily invite them over. I’ve wrestled with the question of whether to tell them that I am not inviting them because of their vaccination status. “Just don’t invite them,” advises my husband, “They won’t notice.” But I know they will notice because I invite them over for a holiday meal every year.
When they do not receive an invitation, will they think I am angry with them? I’m not mad. I don’t want to get Covid. Will they think I am judging them for not getting the jab? Well, I do judge them a little, but that’s not the reason I’m not inviting them. This decision is to protect my health and the health of my other guests. I need to tell them something so they won’t think the worst.
What is the basis for not inviting the unvaccinated? In instructing us about how to care for our health, the Torah urges us “U’shmartem meod,” which means roughly, “You shall guard yourselves extremely.”
To me, taking care of one’s health means getting vaccinated. I understand that the people who refuse vaccination feel that they may be guarding their health, but data from many sources disagree. For example, states with lower vaccination rates have higher infection rates and hospitalization rates. Vaccine effectiveness is not an issue of right-wing or left-wing press. It is, if I dare to use the word, a fact.
In Nitzavim, the last Torah portion of the year, we read, “I have set life and death before you, blessing and curse; you shall choose life so that you will live, you and your offspring.” Just as I chose to protect myself and my children from polio, measles, whooping cough, and tetanus, I choose to defend myself as much as possible from Covid. This action feels like a moral responsibility. Some of my friends do not share this view, but that does not change my obligation to preserve life and health whenever possible.
Hosting unvaccinated individuals creates a small risk to me, my husband, and our guests. If the danger were unavoidable, I might accept it. However, this is an avoidable risk, and I am reluctant to take it, even for people I like.
These relationships are valuable to me, and I hope they will thrive long after Covid has become a distant memory. So how do I tell my friends they won’t be eating my apple-filled challah this year?
Here are a few options for delivering the message:
“Much as we would love to include you, out of respect to our other guests, we are limiting it to those who are immunized.”
“I look forward to seeing you outside at shul or going for a walk. However, out of an abundance of caution, we are only hosting immunized people this year. Please let me know if your situation changes.”
“I respect your right to make decisions about your health, as I hope you will respect mine. After much thought, we have decided to limit our guests to those who are immunized this holiday season. We look forward to better times.”
I spoke to my son about this question today and asked him how he might handle the conversation. He summed it up precisely by saying that the core message is, “I love you, but I just can’t do this.”
So maybe that’s what I will say to my friends: I love you, but I can’t invite you over this year.
I hope they understand. And I hope that next year the conversation will be unnecessary.