Last week, as I got my second Covid-19 vaccination, I felt a surge of relief flow through me. Finally, the anxiety I’d been feeling recently as the Delta variant continued to spread and the ‘pingdemic’ continued to force people to isolate began to wane. I feel safe.
And I’m not alone. I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of British Jews who want their shots have received them. The same is likely true in North America and Israel, where the majority of Jews live. Therefore we now have the privilege and the responsibility to ask: What is our obligation as Jews to vulnerable communities around the world who have not yet been given a vaccine?
As difficult as it is to believe, billions of people have not even had their first vaccination yet. They remain at risk and in limbo, unable to even go to work without fear of infection, let alone dream about seeing family and friends in person. Their challenges are exacerbated by an accelerated slide into extreme poverty and malnutrition.
The outlook, frankly, is bleak in less economically developed countries around the world:
- The continent of Africa is not on track to achieve even a 10% vaccination rate by the end of 2021, and deaths on the continent surged by 80% during the month of July.
- There is a dramatic surge of the Delta variant in Pakistan & Bangladesh, where less than 3% of the population is vaccinated, and access to vaccines has been limited by India’s massive need.
- While Latin America has only 8% of the world’s population, it has more than 20% of global coronavirus cases and 32% of Covid-19 deaths worldwide. Although the region is still reporting more than half of the deaths registered globally, only one in 10 Latin Americans have been fully vaccinated. In countries such as Honduras and Guatemala, the number is less than 1%
I could go on.
Pikuach nefesh, the fundamental principle that preserving a human life overrides virtually all other commandments, is a core Jewish value. Every synagogue should be having a deep conversation about how they can support the global effort to fight the pandemic, especially as Yom Kippur approaches, and we are all praying to be written into the book of life. One way synagogues can focus on this issue is by choosing a charity for their High Holy Day appeals that is raising funds for vaccine equity.
At the very least, the process of selecting a charity at this moment in history should spark a conversation about what is the most effective way to save lives during a global pandemic.
Pikuach nefesh is just one reason why OLAM* has joined with the Office of the Chief Rabbi, Pears Foundation, and others in the UK Jewish community to champion the VaccinAid campaign. The campaign is aimed at raising funds to help health workers and the most high-risk people get their shot, no matter where they live. These include front-line workers, the elderly, and high-risk individuals. UNICEF, the world’s largest provider of vaccines year-round, is leading the procurement, storage, and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines.. The aim is to deliver 2 billion Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021. Funds will also go toward delivering 165 million treatments, and providing 900 million test kits.
Ensuring that more people throughout the world get vaccinated could ultimately save all of us. Because, as a result of the contagious nature of the disease and the rising risk of mutations, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
So, over the coming months, I urge both communal and synagogue leaders, and all community members, to consider where they give tzedakah, and what message they convey when they make that decision. .
“Whoever saves one life is considered to have saved an entire world”
Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter 4
*OLAM is a network of 55+ Jewish and Israeli organizations working in the fields of global service, international development, and humanitarian aid. OLAM’s partners support the world’s most vulnerable populations, during the pandemic and beyond.