This time of year, it’s all about choices, I think. There are the choices we make ourselves and the ones taken entirely out of our hands, by whatever Higher Power we choose to place our faith in.
Nobody, I suppose, at this time last year, had the faintest idea of the choices imposed on us by virtue of the pandemic that raced around the world, no respecter of persons. It didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor – although the poor frequently didn’t have much say in the issue – or religious or utterly agnostic. Never have the words “who shall live and who shall die” had such resonance.
Some of us were lucky and either escaped the virus, or had such a mild dose that we didn’t suffer much. Others… well, the 500 plus bereaved families in the Jewish community, a fraction of what was going on in the wider world, can testify only too bitterly to choices made and unmade.
So, for many, 5781 will be a time of mourning, not just a mourning for those we lost, but for a whole way of life.
Reflecting on choices, I can’t help but wonder about the refusal by some to face reality. This is no longer a normal world; we have to accept that, and it will not be normal until and unless a vaccine is found.
So what are we to make of the constant reports of those – primarily, though not entirely, in the strictly Orthodox community, who carry on blithely as though there were no pandemic? Not for some in our community is there such a thing as the Rule of Six. Rule of Six Thousand, more like.
In the past week, besides the ugly stories of thousands of strictly Orthodox men caught on the Ukrainian border, banned from entering the country to be pilgrims at Uman at the grave of Rabbi Nachman, and banned from returning to Israel, there have been shocking pictures of Orthodox dynasty weddings featuring rows and rows of – of course – entirely unmasked men.
And, closer to home, there are rumours of big houses in the British countryside, with rolling grounds and gardens, being rented out for massive, against-the-rules simchas.
I truly don’t understand why some among us think the rules don’t apply to them. What, they think the virus will halt in its tracks because it sees a beard and a black hat? Tell that to the families of those who died.
We know – we all know – that governments the world over are making a gigantic mess of dealing with the problem. And we also know that in an effort to deflect attention from just such a mess, each is doing its best to focus on “achievements”, whatever they might be.
So in Israel, the first country in the world to reimpose lockdown, a triumphant Benjamin Netanyahu metaphorically pats himself on the back for securing peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. But it is not a choice between one and the other. We can condemn the incompetence while praising the diplomatic success.
That goes for Donald Trump, in whose country thousands have died, and for Boris Johnson, desperately reinflating the Brexit row while the testing strategy lies in ruins and the virus resumes its deadly rampage.
We all have choices to make. This Yom Kippur, let us pray we make the right ones.