Physically apart, but closer than ever?

As our community, our country, and the world at large grapples with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, there have been many remarkable changes in the way we approach everyday life. We call out greetings to neighbors from a safe distance, we have ceased all communal minyanim, we leave the house with no small amount of trepidation.

The most ordinary things have become unrecognizably transformed.

In many ways, this can be frightening, and sometimes disheartening. But  there are positive transformations as well, changes in the status quo that illustrate our collective resilience, innovation, and ability to help one another.

One example that particularly struck me is the redirection of work efforts in the city of Detroit. Many plants in our nation’s car capital, as well as in various other cities, have dedicated portions of their production to manufacturing badly-needed protective equipment for healthcare workers. Respirators and ventilators are being produced on assembly line that normally produce engines and tires.

This represents one of the biggest shifts in production priorities since the “Arsenal of Democracy,” the World War II campaign that transformed auto plants into manufacturing centers for weapons of war. Similar, though grimmer, production shifts famously occurred in Germany as well. The instruments of World War II and and the Holocaust were forged in those prized auto facilities.

Eighty years ago, sources of motion, of progress, were transformed into the machinators of death. Today, as difficult as these times are, I am heartened by the fact that these facilities are now aiding and supporting life. On a very literal level, the innovation once used to cut off breath is now being used to help those sick continue to breathe.

These are not just independent efforts of individual corporations. There is inspiring cooperation at work between disparate companies, a practicality of compassion we rarely see these days. The Ford Motor Company, for example, is reportedly collaborating with GE and 3M on its development of medical supplies. General Motors says they are working with ventilator-builder Ventec.

Nor is this effort limited to large corporations. Small facilities, independent artists, and even beauty suppliers have all been donating their masks and gloves to local hospitals. Individuals with 3-D printers and sewing machines have crowd-sourced production on needed supplies. And beyond direct medical care, the news and even our own community is full of stories of innovative kindness.

Neighbors are shopping for neighbors. Children are driven past a friend’s house to sing “Happy Birthday.” Meals are delivered gratis to nurses and doctors worked to the bone by their first-line response efforts. Gratitude for often-ignored workers — delivery people, grocery store clerks, cleaners and sanitation workers — has blossomed.

Much has been said, and much more will be said, about the intensely challenging nature of these times. But that difficulty makes it all the more important to recognize the profound light and goodness that is emerging daily from this darkness. We remain unified; we remain compassionate. And we are more determined than ever to contribute our time, our money, our prayers, and our love to those who need it most.

Physically, we are apart. But emotionally and spiritually? I don’t believe we have ever been closer.

About the Author
Rabbi Ari Segal is Head of School at Shalhevet High School, in California.
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