What really matters

Last week, it seemed like everything was going crazy, imploding in at least three different directions.

This week, that’s still true — but they’re imploding in entirely other directions.

This week seems to have seen the evolution of the rallies and protests from anarchic nights of chaos and batons to sunlit (and occasionally shower-drenched) marches, full of righteous but contained anger and an irrepressible human need to hope.

Maybe, just maybe, we all can make change. Maybe, just maybe, we can do what Rodney King begged us to do so very many years ago. Maybe we all can just get along.

I saw a young Jewish father and his maybe 4-year-old son at the march in Teaneck. The man and boy walked over to the three Teaneck police officers who were guarding the march. Everyone — kid, father, cops — was masked. The officers were not white; two seemed to be African-American, and the third probably was Latino.

The father greeted the officers politely, thanked them for their service, and then asked them how he could tell his little boy not to be afraid of the police. Given what he’d been hearing, he seemed scared of them, the father said. (The little boy, the essence of adorableness, didn’t seem scared, probably because he was just too cute.)

One of the police officers answered. His voice was muffled by his mask but his message was clear. He and his friends were there to help and to protect. They knew that some other officers had done bad things, but that was not the way it usually worked. He promised he’d keep the little boy, his family, his friends, and the world safe.

Granted, that’s not how it works. It is hard at this point to deny the systemic racism that infects many police departments and many police officers. It is hard, also, for those of us with white skin to understand the stressful, life-shortening burden of living life while black.

But at that moment, in that sunlit space, all of us in earshot wanted to believe that it was true, and we were willing to work to make it be so.

At the same time, however, the virus that locked us all up into our homes, away from our family and friends, continues to stalk. It’s microscopic and lurks unannounced until it’s too late, but it hasn’t gone away.

New Jersey and New York both have started to reopen. That might help the economy, but it can lead to a surge in illness, and in death, and it debilitates some of its survivors. Experts say that as hard as it was to lock down the first time, it will be infinitely harder to do it again. We understand that the governors, Phil Murphy and Andrew Cuomo, were under great pressure to reopen. No one wants to preside over an economy as it is throttled. No one wants to own ruin.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned this week that it’s not over, the New York Times reports; the damage was far worse than he could have imagined, he said, there still are no therapies, although he believes a vaccine will be available in record time there still is no vaccine, and the virus is so new that its effects are not yet recognized, much less understood.

We all have to be very careful.

The rabbis of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, with their careful calibrations and seemingly fussy rules, have the right idea. We all are stir-crazy. Many of us are filled with anger and fear. We want to express it. We see that there is much wrong with the world — that the world seems to be going crazy — and we want to work toward change. The thought that we cannot do what we should be doing because some microscopic neither-alive-nor-dead virus, of all ridiculous things, can stop us makes no sense.

Maybe this enforced time at home, this careful reentry into the outside world, will help us pay attention. Maybe it will allow us to figure out what we really want and need and hope for. Maybe it will help give us the time and space to understand — to really understand — the deep connections and similarities that bind all of us. Not just the Jewish community. All of us.

Maybe this not-human thing somehow will free us to be more human. And least while we wait to eat out and go shopping again.

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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