Paula Mack Drill
This Rabbi Loves Being a Rabbi!

More on Covid-19: Can’t think of much else

EDITOR’S NOTE: After she wrote this piece, Rabbi Drill’s synagogue was closed and she entered self-quarantine due to a congregant’s diagnosis of Covid-19. She still stands by these words, perhaps even more so.

* * *

My youngest son, Josh, flew back to Israel this afternoon after three months in the United States, following completion of his army service.

As soon as he lands, he will go straight to his apartment, where he will begin 14 days of quarantine. His roommates will leave food for him outside his bedroom door, and whenever he emerges, he will need to wipe down every surface he touches. Josh has a great attitude about the quarantine, explaining that he has a lot to read and will have plenty of time to prepare for his entrance exams for Tel Aviv University. The quarantine is inconvenient and worrisome, but it is required by Israeli law and certainly not devastating for Josh.

My in-laws are 87 and 92 years old. Earlier tonight, I brought dinner over, as is our Wednesday night custom. We sheepishly bumped elbows and it felt very strange not to embrace them. They told me that they had sold their tickets to see the Philadelphia Philharmonic this Sunday, and my mother-in-law regrets missing her favorite conductor. It is isolating and worrisome to be an elder through this time of Covid-19 precautions, but the precautions are necessary and not devastating for them.

My niece and her roommate moved into my guestroom tonight, since their college announced its closure just three days after they had returned from spring break. They brought most of their stuff here with them, not sure if their college will reopen this year. Online courses are beginning for them next week, but they wonder how much learning they’ll accomplish. College and university closures are extraordinary and difficult for everyone involved, but they are prudent and not devastating for my niece or her roommate.

Throughout this rollercoaster of a growing national medical emergency, I have tried to maintain balance and perspective for myself and on behalf of my synagogue, the Orangetown Jewish Center. I am proud of our president, Michael Pucci, and our professional staff, who have made very difficult decisions in a reasonable, calm, and careful manner. If we err, we err on the side of safety. The decisions that we make impact every age and stage of our congregation.

It was disappointing to cancel festivities for Purim — a carnival for children, a dance party for which our in-house band rehearsed for months, an adult night club, and a grand seudah on Purim day. Volunteer committees had worked for months to plan all of these joyful programs, and everything except for the Megillah readings was canceled. Disappointing, yes. Devastating? No.

But let’s consider together what truly is devastating about the coronavirus pandemic. People are becoming very ill with this terrible virus, especially elderly people and those with compromised immune systems. We pray for speedy recoveries.

People who live on the edge financially will be pushed over that edge by weeks of quarantine or illness. Those who are paid daily wages, who punch a clock, who do not have adequate sick leave, will struggle mightily to recover long after the disease is gone.

People with inadequate medical insurance will struggle to pay for prescriptions and doctors’ bills. People who are undocumented will hesitate to go to hospitals or doctors.

Many of the children whose schools are closing will miss their free breakfasts and lunches, dependable nutrition for 2/3 of their daily meals. Many parents will have a difficult time replacing those meals for their children. Many parents will be left figuring out how to go to work without childcare, now that schools are closed.

Elderly people, adults with developmental disabilities or mental health issues, the young people who attend the twice weekly drop-in program at the local Rockland Pride Center, family members who attend support groups — all will be impacted by the closure of community centers and other gathering places.

It is always true in our society that those who are most vulnerable suffer first and suffer the most when difficult times hit. I pray that we keep all of these people in mind and take action if we are able to help.

Reach out with phone calls to the elders of our community who are experiencing social distancing now. Many are staying at home as advised. Others live in nursing homes and assisted care residences, where visiting now is discouraged. Be sure they know that you are thinking of them.

Write an extra check to Meals on Wheels. Drop off more food than usual for local food banks and pantries, organizations that help those in need make ends meet.

Write a supportive note to friends who are at high risk from Covid-19 because of their professional work – hospital emergency room workers, EMTs, nurse aides in facilities for the elderly, doctors, and nurses.

At the very time when we need to be close to one another, we are counseled toward a necessary “social distancing.” When the world feels unpredictable, we yearn to be in community, yet we are canceling gathering after gathering. We are used to planning ahead, but we cannot prepare because we do not know what will happen next.

But for the most part, most of us are among the privileged few. If we are quarantined, our community and friends will ensure that we have food to eat. If we need to miss work, we will not risk losing our jobs. If our children’s schools close, they will have plenty to eat for breakfast and lunch. If we grumble about doctors’ bills, we eventually can pay them without going under. And if these things are not all true for you and your family, but you are a part of the OJC, you belong to a supportive, sacred community that will help. You are not alone.

Maintaining an attitude of gratitude will help us get through these confusing and difficult times.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – All of Israel is responsible one for the other. When we say bazeh — in each other — instead of lazeh — to each other — we add a deeper truth to this foundational rabbinic teaching. Not only are we responsible, we are intertwined.

About the Author
Paula Mack Drill is one of three rabbis of Orangetown Jewish Center, Orangeburg, New York. Prior to becoming a rabbi, she worked as a social worker at Daughters of Israel Geriatric Center and Golda Och Academy. She served as Assistant Director at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack for seven years. Rabbi Drill is dedicated to teaching her love of Torah to all ages and creating an inclusive, welcoming Jewish community.
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