(Oh, NO! Not) Another Covid OpEd

A relative wrote to me after Yom Kippur (which I spent at home, in quarantine….davening at the window of our laundry room; the one closest to the outdoor minyan happening nearest our building):  “I expected you to write about the difference between this Yom Kippur and the many others preceding it (which I spent abroad having served as Chazzan at some rather large Shuls in the US and Canada)”.  But this year is different for all of us, and while my feelings may be unique to me, yours are unique to you, and in that way…..not unique at all.  We all have our thoughts and feelings.  Like I said: this year is different for all of us.  Pesach was different.  The summer was different.  Work and school are different.  Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur were different, and while my Sukkah looks the same as it has in years past, we will not be hosting anyone this year.  It’s different.  It’s all different.  That’s a given.  That’s not why I came here.

Can we stop professing to know what causes Covid?  Can we stop telling people that “yennem” did it?  Can we stop pointing to the Chassidim/Chareidim/Protestors/Beach-goers/anti-maskers?  Just this evening I saw a post on Facebook claiming that since a headline reads (quite clearly) that some estimates say that as many as 40% of positive Covid19 PCR tests in Israel are from within the Hareidi community…. and since this community represents some 12% of the general population, it stands to reason that 70% of the positive results are therefore Hareidi.  Huh?  Fuzzy math, there.  But no matter.  It’s all part of the monochromatic, overly simplistic, and most importantly: completely ignorant narrative.  Another post, written my a wise individual whom I respect and echoed by an Israel Hayom article , suggested that Chassidim are intentionally pursuing herd immunity.  Say what you want about the idea, but it once again relegates fault to someone else.  Protestors?  “But it’s a fundamental principle of democracy!” we cry.  What are some others, pray tell?  Can’t it wait?  Then we blame the beach-goers or the mothers bringing little ones to the park.  We turn our noses up at those who aren’t aware of the latest incarnation of the government imposed strictures (which change more often than the mother-of the-bride at a Shabbos Sheva Brachos at the Hilton….but I digress), and look down on those who aren’t as careful as we are about what the (choose one) Rabbi/Dr./Weekly Bulletin/Kol Korei/Website /Whatsapp Status encouraged.  In another layer of irony, since this has been around for the better part of a year and is now at least in its second wave, we have begun to (drumroll please): QUOTE OURSELVES(!) with an accompanying: “see? I told you so.”  By the way, the above goes in both directions.  Anti-maskers, conspiracy theorists, and even more even-keeled conservative folks who are just lobbying for an easing of the strictures LOVE to preach.  Why are you preaching?  Are you sure you know better?  Are you sure you’ve read all of the relevant research?  Is your Facebook feed a wellspring of scientific data or was it intentionally stocked with only the best and most provocative opinions which laugh in the face of mainstream medical opinions?

There is a time to distance ourselves from wrongdoing and even from wrongdoers.  There is a time to hunker down and keep to ourselves and, like now, to do what we can to curb the spread of what is a deadly virus without a (widely accepted and implemented) cure.  There is a time for decision making…..even difficult decisions that will be painful to all parties, but there is a time.  Knowing that masking and distancing is doing our part is not the same as broadly and recklessly implying that everyone else is THE cause of this thing.  They are not.  It is absolutely as simple as that.  Could total compliance make this better faster?  It certainly seems so.  Could it completely eradicate COVID?  It certainly seems not.  If the high incidence of COVID in some communities is the data set with which we are working, how about the other communities?  I spent a few shifts as a Corona-tester.  I must say that the representation from the different communities was pretty equal.  The fact is that the science of statistics would suggest that the vast majority of people fall within one standard deviation  of the norm.  Which means most people are doing more or less the same thing.  And if that same thing (aka the norm) is following the rules, then the rulebreakers are the outliers.  Ok, good.  Of the (approximately) 32% remaining, we need to acknowledge that there are extremist factions on all sides of this: there are secular Israelis, Ultra Orthodox Israelis, and conspiracy theorists.  These are the most fun and they are everywhere.  Rough, inaccurate assumption, here, but the only one to go on as far as I can tell, and we have equal parts Ultra Orthodox, Anarchist/Secular, and Conspiracy theorist in the remaining 32%.  Given my stated interest in avoiding finger-pointing, let’s look at the other data we have: the 68%!  Fully two thirds of society are following government-recommended lockdown protocol and are curbing the spread of a pandemic!  That’s great!   But it’s not great enough. Clearly.  Further, if we, the 68%, are doing such a great job, why do any of US have the virus?  Simple: because this is a pandemic. By Oxford’s definition, that means it is prevalent EVERYWHERE. No amount of masking or distancing will end this thing.  If prayer is your thing, let’s speak to The One who brought this upon us.  If that doesn’t do it for you, by all means just wait it out.  AND DO SO RESPONSIBLY!  Make no mistake, I fully believe that every one of us should be following every government safety mandate to a “T”.  But that’s not because I think for even a second that our adherence will vanquish the dragon.  It won’t.  We wear our seatbelts on the airplane even when we know that they are not terribly helpful in the event of a plane crash.  We wear them because sometimes they help.  If we can limit the spread, then we must.  But we will not cure or end the pandemic with masks.  We will end it, by the grace of  God, with a vaccine of some sort.

Speaking of airplanes, remember flying?  Can you imagine getting bumped in the knee by a runaway beverage cart as the airplane is experiencing turbulence?  Now imagine blaming the woman five rows down who didn’t buckle up when the fasten seatbelt sign went on.  Does that make sense? Her lack of adherence to rules made the drink cart hit your knee?!? Of course not!  The whole aircraft was shaking.  Was she wrong? Of course.  Did it affect you directly?  Of course not!  Is the parallel perfect? No.  We can be put in serious danger if others aren’t careful about hygiene and safety.  We can suffer financial and educational losses if our businesses and schools are shut down due the behavior of the few.  But the disease WILL NOT be cured by your finger-pointing or article-sharing.  It will not be cured by the song.

I’ve written in these pages before, that I believe much of this posturing and positing comes for our inherent desire to be in control:  If we know how this started and where it is going and we are still in control.  News Flash:  We are not in control.  It’s a Pandemic.  Unless you are a medical, military, or research professional: don’t try to stop it.  Just buckle up.  When the captain announces rough air, do you go up and down the aisles telling people what to do and blaming those who don’t? Have you listened to literally the exact same announcement as the others and yet do you decide to regurgitate that soundbite with an air of authority? And yet article after article and opinion after opinion is shared.  Look who did what wrong in what community.  Can we stop it already?  Best case scenario, it’s akin to preaching to the choir.  It’s certainly not reaching the intended audience.  There is only so much WE can do.  Let’s focus on doing that.  Let’s talk respectfully to our friends and neighbors and by all means encourage adherence to all health guidelines.  They are there not to avoid the reality, but to manage as best as we can within the reality.  Use social media to encourage.  This is a time of unprecedented discomfort, confusion and loss for TOO MANY.  Focus on them and ask how you can help and don’t be shy: we all need help now.  Find someone to talk to.  Anyone.  Unlike so many other kinds of personal problems, there isn’t a soul on the planet who can’t relate to what you are experiencing.  There is strength in shared experiences and concerns, and there is great weakness lurking where unnecessary distance is allowed.

This will end.  And when it does, we can only hope to have learned many important lessons.  I’ll be shocked if, among those lessons, we find that it was beneficial to be sharing damning articles and speculations about one segment of society or another.

As we approach the festival of Sukkot, when all nations of the world were represented in the Beit HaMikdash, we realize the significance of each color of the rainbow.  None is perfect.  None is complete.  We are better off for their presence and participation.

Let’s focus on that

About the Author
Avi Ganz is the program Director of Ohr Torah Stone's Yeshivat Darkaynu. He lives with his wife and five children in Gush Etzion where he volunteers for MD"A, plays the blues on his Hohner, and reminisces fondly of his days playing tackle football with the IFL.
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