The three-way storm

We try so hard to control whatever it is that we think we can control, but right outside our windows, just beyond our probably imaginary sphere of control, there is darkness.

This last week, we learned that the darkness is not metaphoric.

The depths of evil that have been uncovered in our nation’s soul might not be surprising, but they are terrifying. It is not overly dramatic to say that racism is this country’s primal sin, the rot at our core, the thing that we never have been able to excise, perhaps because we’ve never really tried.

We are now being hit by three disasters; they’re interconnected, but one did not have to follow the others as inexorably as it did.

We are in a pandemic, threatened by a microscopically tiny enemy that isn’t alive — it’s not the undead of horror stories, but something that never has and never could live. The virus threatens all of us but it hardest on the most vulnerable, including the oldest among us. We frequently face the temptation of thinking of them as disposable. They are not. Our Jewish values tell you that they are not.

We are being lured into dropping our guard against this enemy; we’re bored with constant vigilance, tired of washing the skin off our hands, done with wearing stupid masks that make it hard to breathe. It’s almost summer, and it’s time to go outside.

We are particularly tempted because the second disaster is the economic one; it’s to a large extent self-induced. We are likely in a depression second only to the Great Depression, the one that ended only with World War II. We’ve had to do it to ourselves, but we understand that the rates of unemployment are terrifyingly high, and that people need jobs. We understand that businesses are being decimated, that retail and tourism and the arts all are facing disaster.

On the other hand, the dead don’t go shopping. So there’s that.

As Angelica Berrie told me, quoting a friend, what we’ve been through is an earthquake. Most likely there will be aftershocks. But then — probably in the fall, when it gets colder, when we all go inside, when flu season starts, when hurricane season peaks — there will be the tsunami. We could be prepared — but probably, given our track record so far, we won’t be.

We are trying to be careful. The story of how the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County is trying to re-open its shuls, with its punctilious rules about how many people can be how far apart from each other at a minyan, while eating absolutely nothing afterward and breathing as little as possible throughout, is touching. It shows how important being together, both for davening and just for connection, is, just as it makes clear how this kind of care can lead to a stratification between new classes of haves and have-nots? (Too old? Too fat? Too bad!)

But now there’s the third disaster, the racism and the police brutality and the protests and the looting and the threatening and the tear-gassing and the posing and the wild threatening and the lying. The betrayal of all of us.

This is bad. This is really bad.

It is true that there have been moving moments of goodness that we’ve all watched or read about. There have been times when grace has conquered hate. But there haven’t been enough of them.

There is an election coming up. Every single one of us who is eligible to vote must do so. If you haven’t registered, register. Pay attention to what’s going on. Vote your conscience. It matters.

Until then, stay safe. Stay sane. Stay centered. And did I mention to be sure that you’re registered to vote?

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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