Steve McCloskey, President
LESSONS FROM THE DAYS OF AWE
FOR OUR "WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN”
As we prepare to remotely usher in the High Holy Days amidst the convulsive forces roiling our world, we would do well to recall the broad themes of the Days of Awe- introspection, atonement implemented by action, leading to redemption. COVID-19 continues to wreak death and devastation across America and around the globe. We are buffeted by the propulsive movements seeking needed change in this country. Grappling with these challenges impels us to look inward to confront our collective culpability and to forge a better path forward.
Here are some questions to ponder. Why and when did our sense of civic duty vanish? Why and when did so many adopt individualized aggrievement and entitlement over the general welfare and common good (consider the raging mask debate)? Why and when did disdain for science, data and medicine become so prevalent? Why and when did so many turn to the Internet and social media for their information and “facts,” elevating the propagation of ignorance and misinformation over knowledge and truth? Why and when did it become so fashionable to politicize everything, including seemingly nonpartisan issues, such as public health? Why and when did confrontation, rather than collaboration, become the default mode for so many? Why and when did we succumb to our worst impulses, rather than aspire to our better angels?
Just posing questions is often enough to engender soul searching inquiry, leading to probity, meaningful action and, ultimately, a repairing of our world.
The global pandemic is spiraling out of control in Florida and across many parts of this country. We cannot go back to what was, but we most certainly must muster an unified, data-driven federal and state response to the coronavirus, with a national mandate for face masks and social distancing, ramped up testing and contact tracing, increased production of PPE (personal protective equipment), truthful information about possible therapeutics and vaccines , a coherent strategy for safely reopening schools and businesses and a massive public education campaign about the absolute necessity of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. This concerted effort must be driven by science, data and medicine and led by the CDC,NIH and public health officials, not by politicians. If we fail to mount this urgent effort, we will face a calamitous reckoning.
Frankly confronting one’s failings, whether individually or communally, is exceedingly difficult, particularly with respect to something as insidious and destructive as racism and inequity. However, it’s long past time to countenance implacable opposition to real progress on race relations in particular and societal equality in general.
For far too many, abject indifference, callous complacency, and silent complicity constitute our “response” to the quite perilous plight of people of color in this country, particularly Black Americans. So many of us are zealous in our protection of our “rights,” with little regard for our concomitant responsibilities to our fellow citizens. These perilous times have exposed glaring disparities in affordable housing, access to affordable, quality health care, health care outcomes, income and wealth, educational opportunity, voting rights and so much more. Quoting John Lewis, our children and grandchildren will ask us, “What did YOU do?”
At NJC, we held a virtual raffle in place of our cancelled Game Day, raised $2,000 and donated it to the Harry Chapin Food Bank. We have joined the URJ’s “Every Voice, Every Vote” civic engagement campaign, pledging to have 100% voting participation by our members in the November 3 election. Each of us can raise our voice to vote, to do our civic duty.
OPPORTUNITY AND GRATITUDE
ABOUND DURING THE COVID-19 ERA
The devastation wrought by the novel corona virus has been mind-boggling. COVID-19 has decimated the lives of hundreds of millions around the globe, from death and life-threatening illness for victims and their families, to economic disaster for countless others. There is no aspect of our pre-COVID-19 world that has not been upended by this global scourge. A pall of grim resignation has settled upon us in a self-imposed isolation meant to keep us safe.
However, every crisis, particularly this global pandemic, creates opportunity for us and for our world. The most obvious opportunity is for bipartisan, effective leadership to emerge to forge a comprehensive strategy to demonstrate to the world that the United States is ready for this unprecedented challenge to make a better post-COVID-19 world. We have seen many examples of this leadership at the local and state levels, and even glimpses of it at the federal level with the passage of the initial stimulus legislation.
This election cycle will be over in early November; we forego this opportunity at our collective peril. In these parlous times, we crave a “we-centric,” not a “me-centric” approach from our leaders. One place to start would be a desperately needed infrastructure program, which has always garnered broad bipartisan support, but has been shelved due to the political divide. This legislation would be in keeping with Judaism’s obligation of Tikkun Olam, to repair our world.
As many of us shelter in place and slow down somewhat, this hiatus provides an opportunity for contemplation of what we want as our “new normal,” post-COVID-19. Since we cannot go back to what was, we must strive for what we hope will be. This pandemic has glaringly exposed and exacerbated the vast economic and societal inequity in America, from health care to income to available resources to justice, just to name a few. Can we really be proud of our country when the American dream has been foreclosed for a vast swath of our citizens, and the middle class--the backbone of the United States--has virtually disappeared?
In seizing this opportunity to redefine the “new normal,” let’s be guided by the heart of the Judaic creed, the precepts of justice: mercy and humility; economic, legal and societal justice; compassion and empathy as essential tools of governance, and the stark recognition that unless we value inclusion of all strata of society in our decision making, it is a sure path to what is old and stale, rather than to what is new and vibrant. Shouldn’t we aspire to making this a better world for more of our citizens, rather than fewer of them?
At NJC, this crisis has required new ways to connect with our members. We always had in-person services and events, something that has been impossible in recent months. Zoom and YouTube Live have been a godsend, enabling us to provide a more robust spiritual, educational and social (through NJC Connects) experience than usual for our members during the summer months. The lull in holding gatherings has also created opportunity for personal contact through old fashioned means, such as phone calls. These phone calls to our members in this time of safer at home have given me a chance to connect in ways not possible in a few minutes at an oneg following a Shabbat service.
Let’s be grateful for this time of strengthening our bonds with loved ones, but not squander our chance for meaningful societal change.
ACT RESPONSIBLY TOGETHER TO STAY SAFE
Because so much about COVID-19 is unknown, we will be in uncharted territory for the foreseeable future. Unless you have been tested for this novel coronavirus, there’s no way to know whether you’re infected. Therefore, we all must act as if we have COVID-19.
The principle is simple: Don’t be selfish. Act responsibly. It’s not only your well-being, but everyone else’s, too.
Avoid taking health advice from politicians and pundits. Instead, rely on our public health experts, whose job is keeping us safe and healthy. These are leaders in their disciplines who work at the CDC, the FDA, the Florida Department of Health and our local health departments. Their only agenda is our health and safety. Their advice, guidelines and recommendations are constantly evolving as they learn more about the corona virus and the disease it produces: COVOD-13. We must be vigilant, keep up with their directives and heed their advice.
Since an infected person without symptoms can still shed the virus and infect others, staying at home and sheltering in place is imperative for almost all of us. Many of us are part of the most vulnerable cohort. Limiting our exposure to others is critical. This must include family and friends. One of the blessings of current technology is that we have now so many ways to connect remotely: Skype, Zoom, Face Time, Google Hangout, just to name a few. Even though we cannot connect physically right now, we can reach out and touch each other via social media/internet platforms.
All congregations are devising methods to keep in touch with their members. Like contacts with family and friends, this effort can take many forms, including audio messages, live streaming of services and virtual meetings. At NJC, we are calling all our members to let them know we’re concerned about them and will try to help them cope with the pandemic in any way we can safely manage. We’ll leave audio messages, hold virtual services, disseminate valuable information, or just provide a sympathetic ear and voice to help members cope with this unprecedented challenge.
When you talk to family and friends, please emphasize that this the most serious threat to public health threat in 100 years, a crisis that requires all of us to drastically alter our behavior and severely limit what would otherwise be normal interaction with others.
We know that social/physical distancing, staying home and sheltering in place present many challenges, but these measures are mandatory, not optional. To do your part, don’t engage in panic buying. It is selfish and will cause shortages not just for others, but eventually for you, too. The only way to effectively address this crisis is to recognize that acting only for ourselves will harm others, perhaps irreparably.
As we go forward, stay calm, recognize that what we do can harm others we may never know and see. We should be driven by the knowledge that if we all act responsibly, we will stop the spread of COVID-19. Remember, this virus does not recognize social status, political affiliation, age, gender, occupation or geographical location. Rather, it transcends all demographics and does not discriminate among its victims. All of us are susceptible to this scourge.
Only when all of us understand that this dire threat is real can we plan collectively to halt its spread. Hopefully, by the time this is printed, the curve has been flattened.
President, Naples Jewish Congregation