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  • Writer's pictureKaren L

Social Action and the Coronavirus A Jewish Perspective

Coronavirus and social action, you ask? Strange notion, I know, given we are told “to wash our hands” and to “distance ourselves from others.” These seem like personal actions not social. But, by using proper hygiene, etiquette, and social distancing, we are protecting others. Every choice has social implications—always has—but now the stakes are higher and are life or death for some.

Common Jewish ideas resonate--Tikkun Olam comes to mind—repairing the world, a concept found in the Mishnah, referring to helping those at a disadvantage. In this case, young people avoiding crowds, to stem the tide of disease, ultimately protecting older people. Tzedakah, usually thought of as giving money, can be the contribution of effort, time, and insight. Opting to be cautious in our public actions, to stay home, and lend a hand to a less fortunate person are all types of tzedakah. We demonstrate a mitzvah, an anonymous act of kindness, by following the local, state, and federal guidelines for social distancing and cleanliness during this pandemic. Every time one “catches” a cough in the elbow, one is potentially safeguarding others. Remaining at home, not going to your beach house, and changing your habits potentially saves many people from the current disease. These are mitzvahs.

I believe in the Golden Rule and the Talmudic saying—to save one life, saves many. Americans, generous indeed, continue to follow the mantra—me first. Even the seniors—who have been given a courtesy to shop in relative isolation—are hoarding. Obviously, the attitude is selfish and counterproductive. Whenever my daughter takes boxes of food off a market shelf, she notes, there are so many—six, ten—remaining for others to buy. Is the behavior learned or is it genetic? Regardless, a lesson for all to follow.

The frightening aspect of this pandemic is the unknown. The unknowable and uncertain commonly sends normal individuals into panic mode. We cannot shove the issue to a distant continent , for example, “Oh, Ebola is in Africa. Africa is very far away. And we certainly have better sanitation. We have hospitals.” As the King said (King and I)—“Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.” The usual protective methods for denying our risk, devices to persist in a chaotic world, are useless at the present. For example, we rest easy at night because we received a flu shot and have no underlying conditions. Oh, and we go to the doctor, and even had the pneumonia immunization. And we are not old, are we? Yes, the risk increases with 60, rising in the 70’s and 80’s. Consequently, we relax. At the least, our children and grandchildren are safe. Not so fast. Reports flashed on our phones say that half of the hospitalized for COVID-19 are “young” people. There is no vaccination, and COVID-19 is in our city! Some of us are carriers of the virus.

In conclusion, we are one community; helping ourselves is protecting our neighbors. Wash your hands, do not go to the office, walk outside, keep six feet away from others, work at home or virtually, sing, dance, practice a musical instrument or give a concert on your balcony, read, paint, write, cook, eat, drink, pray and hope we can survive. This is real. There is no escape. I am just as scared as you are.


Karen Levi

March 20, 2020

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