Viruses can be traced to their origin, I also think failures to deal adequately with this pandemic can be too. Listening to a podcast between Rabbi Sacks and Tim Ferris (https://tim.blog/2020/08/29/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks-transcript/) I realized one of the reasons why Israel has failed in its battle against Corona after such a good start.
Back in April, we were patting ourselves on the back, being compared to New Zealand and parading some of the best Corona numbers in the world. This week we have the worst per capita numbers in the world. Israel is a land of extremes and just as Israelis can be some of the most inviting caring, and altruistic people in the world they can also sometimes be the most selfish; both sides of that have been evident in this pandemic.
Rabbi Sacks points out an interesting nuance that may explain varying success rates in countries and their degree of success in dealing with Corona. He looks at whether a country has a ‘WE’ culture or an’ I’ culture. Noting the Western world with its increasing individualistic society, he looks at the corona rates in the UK and the US, where even today we see protests against Corona restrictions and people saying, it is my body and I should choose if I want to wear a mask or not. Whereas Asian societies and New Zealand ,where there is a greater tendency toward a WE culture, there is greater adherence to the restrictions and much lower rates of infection.
In Israel we know how to respond to crises – we know that when things are serious we all band together. The unity we have all seen and experienced when the country faces an existential threat or goes on to war footing is inspiring. When Corona hit we knew how to respond and we responded as a whole. We made our sacrifices, we looked out for each other and our neighbors and we started to win against Corona.
But then we had Seder Night, the night in my opinion where we lost the war. We understood that although WE had made tough sacrifices where WE had spent the night without family or alone, We weren’t really in this together; our leaders were doing what was good for them. This has continued with the individual factions, parties, and politicians dictating rules or bending rules as appropriate to what is good for them, their faction, or their individual needs.
The ‘WE’ that we all so strongly felt has completely dissipated to the ‘I’ on both an individual and sub fractional tribal level. From the Chasidim who want to go to Uman, to the ravers who want to party in the desert, to the protestors who want to see the government removed.
I fear this is a disastrous trend within Israeli society which will see us fall deeper into the well of individualistic despair. It starts with our leaders who have forgotten why they are there, it is not to serve their own interests or egos or only their individual community, but the greater good. The sooner we remember that, the sooner we can begin to win together
To quote Rabbi Sacks “We have lost social responsibility. Let’s care about each other again”