Sukkot 5781: Time for Areyvut!

Unwelcome Guest in the Sukka - PhotoGraphic by Nili Bresler
Unwelcome Guest in the Sukka - photographic by Nili Bresler

Areyvut: mutual responsibility – is one of the most basic Jewish values. It has never been more vital than now. This year, more than any other, we should remember that we are all together under the same stars. My prayer is that everyone look up into the night sky this holiday and let the stars light our way to a better time. Now, when even the air we breathe threatens us, we must remember that taking care of one another is the only way we will survive. Every one of us must take responsibility. Now, more than ever, we should consider what connects us as people – not the differences which divide us. Just as we care for our families and ourselves, we must also care for one another. How? For starters, wear a mask!

This year we greet the high holidays in the strangest of times. The Sukkot tradition of taking meals in a temporary structure under the stars reminds us that we were all once wanderers. We were all once refugees. We are instructed to invite others into our Sukka, to offer food and shelter to those in need. What better way to show our care for others than the simple act of wearing a face mask in order to protect those around us.

The Sukka reminds us of our wandering in the desert. Our ancestors wandered because they had no choice: They were on the run from slavery, on a journey toward a land they had never seen. Today, in COVID times, we could not wander if we wanted to. We are locked down, limited to a radius of 1 kilometer from our front door. Yet, we are the lucky ones: We are lucky to have a roof over our heads, a safe place to shelter during this crisis.

I am constantly filled with gratitude for my good fortune: My family is healthy, tfoo, tfoo, tfoo. We are all doing our best to stay safe. Sadly the same cannot be said for the rest of our country. Israel has now surpassed the United States in the number of daily fatalities per capita from COVID-19, according to a government study. Our tiny country has hit the horrendous record of 9,000 COVID cases per day. Earlier this month we woke up to the news that Israel now leads the world in the daily COVID-19 infection rate per capita.

How does this happen in a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world? Where is the logic? Where is the correlation between access to information and the action which should logically follow? How can hundreds of thousands of people remain unaware of the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis? I have no idea why so many people seem oblivious to this pandemic. I understand that it’s hard to stay inside. I understand that wearing a mask is uncomfortable. But we are barraged daily by news reports and statistics telling us why we should heed basic safety measures.

Here I am, still inside, still hoping that more people will wake up and start taking this seriously. After half a year of unjustified optimism, I am baffled by the behavior I see around me. When I went into isolation in early March, I could not have imagined that six months later I’d still be here, inside, on doctor’s orders. I called him a few weeks ago, to check in. In his words, “Just stay inside and don’t come out until I tell you.”  This is a no-nonsense, down to earth family doctor, whom I literally trust with my life. He is not an alarmist. He does not seem to panic easily. He knows me well. Last year when he told me my cholesterol was rather high (ridiculous for a vegetarian, I know) he said: “I’d prescribe some medication for that, but I know you won’t take it. So let’s try to eat a bit less of that fancy French cheese you like.”  And now it seems that cholesterol is the least of my worries. Severe asthma and my baby boomer age seem to be the main cause for concern… Oh yes, and that annoying habit of my fellow Israelis to blatantly ignore COVID 19 guidelines.

What a difference a half-year makes. Just 6 months ago I wrote the words below, as I started my Isolation Vacation. My first blog post here at TOI was published March 16th, titled: Hope and thankfulness in the time of Corona. Here are some of the reasons to be thankful that I listed just a half year ago: “I live in a country that takes personal health, safety and security seriously. Here in Israel we’ve got strict measures in place, with the rules getting stricter daily. And most of us here are paying attention and following the guidelines.”

Well, that lasted 2 months, followed by 4 months of chaos and pandemonium. Many months of illegal indoor and outdoor mass gatherings. Some days it’s all I can do to maintain my optimism and my faith in my fellow Israelis. Thankfully, in addition – and in contrast – to the unmasked hordes, there are also hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are acting responsibly, staying home as much as possible. There are many thousands now making their voices heard as they protest governmental corruption, lack of leadership and the government’s failure to find its way out of this health crisis.

My neighbors decorate their sukka. Photo by Nili Bresler

I want to believe that this Sukkot holiday will somehow bring enlightenment to people. I truly believe that all we need now is a true spirit of Areyvut – mutual responsibility. I believe that if we each felt accountable for the safety of our fellow humans, we could find our way out of this dark and dangerous time. As we sit in the Sukka and look up to the stars, let us open our souls and let the starlight into our hearts.

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a trainer and business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, she was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. In her spare time, she manages communications for the non-profit, NATAN International Humanitarian Aid. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives happily in Ramat Gan.
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