Just wear your mask!

Yes, we are all under stress. We are living oddly. We have to stay home most of the time. We can’t spend time with our friends. Our Shabbat tables are empty except for the people we have every other meal with; if we live alone, we share nothing with anybody.

It is a very hard way to live.

It’s also exposing who we are as people; as it refines us, making us more of who we really are, it brings out our strengths and weaknesses.

We are all negotiating the weirdnesses that come from unlearning behaviors for which we’d been rewarded and teaching ourselves new awkwardnesses, even pretending that they are not only necessary — which they are — but good — which they are not.

We know that the best way to prevent the coronavirus from spreading is to wear masks and practice social distancing. (And yes, we understand and acknowledge that at the beginning of the pandemic, we were told not to wear masks. That advice was given partly because the extent to which aerosolized droplets was responsible for spreading covid was not clear, and partly because there were not enough masks to go around back then, and it was necessary to save them for health-care workers and other people on the front lines. Both our knowledge and the supply of masks available to us have changed since then; in fact, if you want to study the American entrepreneurial instinct, a good place to focus would be on the brand new mask creation, design, production, and distribution marketplace.)

We know that it’s unnatural to cross the street to avoid someone; in fact, in our earlier lives most of the time it would have  been rude. We know that it’s unnatural to cover the bottom halves of our faces, as if we were bank robbers or cowboys guarding our mouths against the dust raised by stampeding cattle.

Now, though, that’s the polite way to function in this new world; we just have to hope that once it’s over, really over, shoved as firmly back into our past as the 1918 pandemic was during the wild parties of the 1920s, we no longer will feel uncomfortable with our entire faces showing as we hug our friends instead of trying to figure out exactly how far six feet might be.

Then, there are those people who use masks as an opportunity to vent their rage.

Last week, Margot Kagan of Teaneck was in Staples in Hackensack. She was using a copy machine.

She asked another woman who came close to her to please wear a mask, as both the store and state regulations dictate.

The other woman did not put on a mask. Instead, she flung Ms. Kagan to the ground, where she writhed in obvious pain. Then she stalked away. For the 47 seconds that the video lasts, no one approaches Ms. Kagan to offer help.

All this is visible on a video was released by the Hackensack police department and posted online. It’s silent, so we don’t know how it sounded — if the victim screamed when she was assaulted, if she cried for help, if she made noise as she fell, if the assailant’s shoes squeaked or clattered as she strode away.

There are some complicating factors. Ms. Kagan, 54, had a liver transplant four months before the assault. She carried a cane, and held it out as her assailant approached her; it looks like she was warding her off. She is visibly frail, even in the low-quality video. And the assailant, who was arrested on Tuesday, broke Ms. Kagan’s leg.

(Ms. Kagan’s family has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay her medical expenses.)

It is annoying to have to wear a mask. It doesn’t feel particularly good, and few of us know how to accessorize it properly.

It is annoying to have to stand six feet away from other people. It makes it harder to get where you’re going as quickly as you’d like, and it makes it harder to peer over strangers’ shoulders as you silently pressure them to move faster.

But we also know that wearing masks and practicing social distancing keep the virus at bay. We know that when we do those things, the rate of infection goes down. When we don’t, the rate goes up.

There’s no point in bothering to say that it is wrong to assault people, even if they are so impolitic as to tell you to put your mask on. Even if you don’t like their tone. Even if you think it’s none of their business. That’s an aspect of decent human behavior that has not changed in the pandemic. Decency still matters.

And so does wearing a mask.

Please just wear your mask!

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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