The second lockdown is a grave disappointment for the economy, the nation’s spirituality and our social wellbeing. The economic consequences of the pandemic have become a specialist subject. Not only have they featured in countless online community and City events but they have dominated my working life, too.
The economic data is quite literally terrifying and beyond anything seen in modern peacetime. At a stroke lockdown and the stop-start of tier restrictions since August have wiped 11 percent off national output. As national output has shrunk so has prosperity and household incomes. It will take at least a pandemic-free three-to-five years to catch up to where we were. The so called ‘V’ shaped recovery was an aberration seen briefly in the summer months as restrictions were loosened.
Tragically, the worst effected by the pandemic have been the elderly, particularly over-80s who have paid heavily with their lives and are spending their last active years wrapped in cotton wool. But at least they have lived most of their lives in freedom. In the case of Shoah survivors the virus is a second, less perilous, but deeply disturbing event.
The young will pay the heaviest price over the longer haul. Education has been interrupted and the university experience ruined. The 18-to-24 year-olds will also be the generation which finds it hardest to enter the workforce. They will have responsibility for repaying a national debt of £2trillion which, with the extension of furlough, is swelling by the day.
It is sobering to think that the loan from the Second World War was not paid off until 2006 and it took 10 years of austerity to recover from the 2008-09 financial crisis. Even in the worst quarter of 2008 output never fell by more than five percent. The lost younger generation is as much a moral as an economic issue – especially as this group was the least threatened by a Covid-19 infection.
The impact of the virus on citizens’ spiritual lives and morale is harder to measure. But one fully understands the frustration of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Christian leaders over the second lockdown. As brilliant as online religion has been, it has severe limitations. The platforms have turned most Jewish communities into viewers rather than participants. One of the most endearing aspect of community worship is its raucous and participatory nature. Particularly in Orthodox communities, congregational participation – from leading services to singing loudly – is welcomed. That cannot be replicated on Teams, Zoom, Facebook and other venues. Online services have helped in keeping the elderly, isolated and in some cases the alienated in touch with their roots.
The endless efforts of ministers such as Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld of Western Marble Arch, who has led a Facebook shachrit service every day since the first lockdown, has been uplifting. He has brought joy to those who tuned in and continued to broadcast when synagogues re-opened. Each service bookended with prayers for the sick and those NHS and care workers in the thick of the battle against the pandemic.
For many of us inveterate shul-goers the return of live services, particularly during the High Holy Days, was a lifeline. Masks may be uncomfortable and the power of the singing suppressed. However, the divinity of live services and the chance for the bereaved and those with yahrzeit to say kaddish cannot be surpassed by praying in front of screen or on one’s own.
Shul going is also about comradery, mixing again with fellow Jews, even if communities have been Kiddush and whisky deprived. Synagogue going seem particularly relevant at this early stage of the Jewish year when the stirring narratives of Bereshit (Genesis) are an enduring inspiration.
Our forefathers and mothers in Egypt and fellow Jews who suffered the brutality of the Nazi work and death camps suffered far more than we ever will in the pandemic.