Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author
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Is the state really AC or is AC a state of mind?

In this supposed 'After Corona' world, I'm more frightened than ever, not just of dying, but of dying alone, separated from my children
Illustration by Meira Ner-David
Illustration by Meira Ner-David

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Corona virus has left the country!

Or so it seems from the way the general public here in Israel is acting and talking. Although beaches were officially still closed this weekend, they were packed. And in any event, the last institutions, services and spaces in Israel that were still closed, or partially closed, have already opened fully today, or will be fully opening shortly: beaches, malls, public transportation, schools, airports …

I have heard many people speaking of their Corona experience as something that is behind them, something we have experienced and can now process and move forward. I hope they are right, but personally, while I do speak about the period before Corona as BC, I am not ready to speak of the present as AC.

The fact is that the virus has not disappeared. There are still people with the virus in hospitals, at home, and even walking around undiagnosed who will inevitably pass it on to others. Officials at the Health Ministry are saying it is too early to fully open, but other ministries (like Finance, Education and Transportation) disagree. Perhaps for financial reasons, and perhaps because they are going with their sense of public opinion, which seems to be that people have decided enough is enough.

We may have flattened the curve, but that was because we were in lockdown. It seems logical to assume that as people start to gather and travel, the curve will begin an upward climb again. My life would be easier and my nerves calmer if I could believe this was not true, but I don’t know how to convince myself otherwise.

As someone in a high risk category, I feel I need to be more careful now, not less. Our kibbutz has already resumed organized group activities out of doors, and people are freely gathering in closed spaces and will likely start gathering formally in closed spaces too. Yet, I have not made any changes in my own activity. That seems like the least I can do to feel I am making an effort to protect myself.

With everyone else – the people with whom I live, as well as anyone with whom I may come into contact if I venture out – moving about freely, I feel more vulnerable than I did before. It does not help me to hear that there are no known cases in my area now, or that there are fewer cases in the country in general, because I know how quickly the virus can spread. I also know that people can be asymptomatic carriers or only develop symptoms days or weeks after they contract the virus.

Since schools partially reopened two weeks ago, two teachers have been diagnosed, and as a result the kids and staff with whom the teachers came into contact were sent into isolation for two weeks. In one case, the entire school was shut down. What does that mean to send a child into isolation from their family? And what does that mean for those children’s parents who, like me, are in a high risk category? And what of all the other people with whom those students and staff came into contact before the teacher began showing symptoms? And the people with whom those people came into contact?

The truth is, I am already taking a risk by sending my kids to school and giving others in my house freedom to choose how much they want to come and go. And I am not sure having the physical peace and quiet while I work at home is worth sacrificing my psychological peace and quiet. But I am not willing to ask those with whom I live to continue sheltering in place when everyone around us is returning to their lives BC.

In my opinion, we are all at risk. Some perhaps more than others, but no one can say they are not at risk of getting sick and/or dying from Corona. From what I have read, people of all ages and ranges of health have had severe cases of and even died from the virus, including children. Yet I continue to hear people say – in their AC musings — that they knew they would not get sick from the virus but felt a moral obligation to shelter in place so that others would not get sick.

If people want to believe that, it is fine. We all have our coping mechanisms to deal with our mortality. But even if that were true, what does that mean for us who are officially considered high risk? Have people simply decided that there is a limit to how much they are willing to sacrifice for the health of others, and that they have decided, on a personal or societal level, that we have reached that limit?

As someone who feels vulnerable, I ask myself why the Coronavirus makes me feel more vulnerable than I did BC. After all, we are all going to die. Even by getting into a car, I know I am risking my life. Living with a degenerative muscular disease has made me more aware of my mortality, not less so. But what frightens me about my condition, actually, is not the dying part, but the how I will die part. I am more afraid of being incapacitated but still alive than not being alive at all. The loss of control is a big part of that, which sheds some light on why Corona scares me so much.

From what I have read of people who are sick and die from Corona, the experience is a lonely and frightening one. There is no one you know personally to advocate for you in the hospital or sit by your side. It is heartwarming to know there are strangers who are risking their own lives to care for Corona patients and would for me too if I were to contract the virus, but that does not comfort me the way knowing my loved ones could be there would.

What is even more disquieting is the thought of dying alone. No one can choose the circumstances or conditions of their death, but if I could, this would not be it. Not for my own sake and not for the sake of my family. Perhaps existentially and spiritually, no one dies alone. But I do not want to disappear from my children’s lives one day and for them to know I am dying in a hospital and they cannot see me again. No, not that way, is a mantra I hear in my head. That is not the way I want to go.

And so, when given the choice to ignore the risks involved in taking an AC attitude, I picture myself intubated, perhaps even in an induced coma, laying in a hospital with my family worrying at home, and I choose not to take that risk. It just does not feel worth it to me at this point. Although I know that could change.

One thing I am learning from this experience is that my life can be fulfilling and enjoyable while sheltering in the place I call home. I will need to see doctors, go to the dentist, and even get my hair cut at some point. But I can do without parties, malls and supermarkets. That’s for sure. And for those things that lie in between those two extremes — like in person group meetings, cultural events, prayer services, classes — I will ask myself just how urgent they are. Am I willing to risk the chance that the death I know will come my way anyway will be from contracting Corona in this way? If the answer is no and the choice mine, I will exercise my right to vote with my feet.

I realize other people are voting differently than I am with their feet. And that is fine. I realize their circumstances and mindset may be very different from mine. I respect their right to vote, and I cannot expect those who do not feel vulnerable to sacrifice their right to vote to make me feel safer. Nor can I ask them to vote against their conscience.

But it feels important to be honest about how we are all voting and why, and not act as if Corona has decided to make a quick exit.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two spiritual journey memoirs: Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual counselor (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. She is currently working on a novel and a third spiritual memoir, and her latest book, Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, is slated for publication in 2020. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.
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