A few days ago I was at a sparsely attended funeral at New Bushey for a friend of my wife who had succumbed to Covid. Erica was an accomplished person who taught Ivrit at cheder, won a prize from the V&A Museum for her art and wrote and illustrated children’s books. She had worked alongside my wife Tricia translating Yiddish tales for her puppet theatre.
The funeral was a bleak affair conducted outside in the cold with sleet falling intermittently and the rabbi’s glasses steaming up above his mask. Unfortunately, Erica had been fighting illness for some years. But her mind was still bright and she was a proud grandmother. In spite of her several illnesses it was Covid-19 that took her life in the end.
Her husband, a computer entrepreneur who once managed to rescue a lost book transcript of mine from the depths of a hard drive, was unable to be there because he was isolating. Of the four offspring only two were present at the funeral. One son was suffering from Covid-19 and the daughter was shielding. All were able to take part in the Zoom shiva.
By unhappy coincidence the funeral immediately following Erica’a was another Richmond synagogue member also taken by the pandemic. The most sobering thing about this experience was when the small band of mourners moved away from the open area between the prayer halls to the grounds for the internment. What caught my eye were the serried ranks of newly- filled graves. Of the many times visiting Bushey I have never been so aware of how fragile life has become in the age of coronavirus.
Amid such gloom and terror from an unseen and deadly enemy, the relief arising from the arrival of the vaccine is palpable. In spite of the Twitter posting of broadcaster Piers Morgan, the Jewish community can take pride in the civilised, speedy and humane way in which Israel has gone about vaccinating its population, Jews and Arabs alike, including the Palestinians of East Jerusalem.
We should not forget that Morgan, in spite of acquiring celebrity status, was dismissed as editor of the Daily Mirror in 2004 after the paper published graphic photos of alleged Iraq war torture victims. A probe found the pictures were fabricated.
If there is any stain it is Morgan ill-advisedly criticising a country demonstrating how a civilised democracy, at whatever cost, is recognising first and foremost the value of life: pekuach nefesh. It is in the health care sector that Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs work shoulder-to-shoulder in hospitals, care homes and pharmacies to save all lives.
What is to be praised is the way big pharma companies (Pfizer and Moderna happen to be headed by Jews) have become angels of hope. Each week I chat to my Aunt Sussie, my late father’s youngest sister, to check on how she is doing in the pandemic.
She is a special person, an Auschwitz survivor, who witnessed the horrors of the Shoah but never allows past suffering to interfere in the joy of life.
The call after Shabbat this week was particularly cheerful. Sussie told me that 24-hours earlier she had received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The relief of this brave woman now well into her 90s was palpable. After long months of shielding she told me: ‘I will be able to go out again.’ ‘Are you planning to go dancing?’ I enquired. ‘I am a bit old for nightclubs,’ she replied without pause. Her relief was palpable.
With the Covid-19 mutation currently rampant there is a long way to go. Immunisation offers a path from filled-to-capacity hospitals and Bushey cemetery to the normality we all crave.