It just gets weirder

If there is anything that we can sure of now, it’s that every week will be more stressful, more simultaneously frightening and claustrophobic, and just plain odder than the week before.

Now we’re all sheltering in place, reading about the exploding numbers of desperately sick people clogging New York’s hospitals, and Teaneck’s Holy Name Medical Center as well. We’re reading stories from people who say that having the virus really isn’t so bad, and other stories from people who say oh yes it is. Yes it absolutely is.

We’re still getting mixed messages; most doctors say that if we don’t flatten the curve so many people will become so seriously ill that hospitals will implode, out of supplies, treating a disease that so far has no treatment. Our very first-world country will totter on the edge of the third world.

Meanwhile, our president is telling us that we should be back to normal by April, that the hit the economy is taking will be worse for our long-term prospects than any illness can be. (That argument’s hard to accept, because seriously sick people do not go out to restaurants, dead people don’t buy new clothing, and even a plain wooden coffin is a one-time expenditure.) The lieutenant governor of Texas, in a statement that certainly flouts every Jewish value there is, has suggested that grandparents over 70 should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the economy. “Those of us who are 70+, we’ll take care of ourselves but don’t sacrifice the country,” he said.

These are unprecedentedly frightening times.

And yet. And yet.

We are all trying hard to find some good in this roiling mess of impersonal viral evil and the callousness it has evoked, and there is much.

As other people through our region have said, there are the doctors and nurses and all the other hospital staff who take care of the sick, who risk sickness and death themselves — and sometimes die — because the disease is extremely contagious and there are not enough masks to go around, are extraordinary.

The teachers who throw themselves into an entirely new way of teaching, exhausting themselves, giving as much as they have (which is a lot) to their students, because they care about them so deeply, because they’ve dedicated themselves to these children, are extraordinary.

The way that we’ve been forced to stay far apart from each other paradoxically has added new intimacy.

Last Sunday, the Jewish Agency and some other Israeli organizations presented a concert by the Israeli musician Idan Raichel. Not only did almost 400,000 of us around the world all watch the same person, but we saw him in close-up, in his home. Cameras don’t usually go that close, and when they do, the performance usually is more edited, more, somehow, performative. This was someone saying less “Look at me” and more “We’re all in this together.”

I am used to interviewing people in person or by phone. It’s different doing it by Zoom than in person; I see less of the other person’s home, but far more of his or her face, because cameras allow staring in ways that would be grotesquely impolite in person. You can’t see as much body language, but you see far more facial expressions. It’s a different way to read someone.

This is a complicated and terrible time. There’s no getting around that. A month ago it would have been sheer melodrama to say that our entire way of life, the health of our cities, the future of our democracy, is at risk, but it is.

So we have to be vigilant, and we also have to be open to each other, because it’s only through love and trust and basic decency that we will survive. And once we survive, we will flourish.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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