We are living in unprecedented times. Not just us at KI or in America but in the whole world. Not since World War II has there been a global situation which has affected everyone on the planet in a personal way. By far our biggest challenge is medical and scientific. All of us are anxiously waiting for reports of medical breakthroughs in the detection, prevention and treatment of the novel Coronavirus which is rapidly reshaping life as we know it on earth. All of this is going to take time as is the production, distribution and application of Corona testing evolves. Meanwhile, we are asked to take necessary and rational precautions, the first of which is social distancing.
Social distancing is a new phrase, at least it is a new phrase in my experience. The idea is to stay away from other people, keep a six-foot space between you and others, not to participate in group gatherings (some say 10 people, others say 50), and most drastically, to self-quarantine. These are tactics meant to apply to all of us but especially for those of us over 60 years of age and with pre-existing medical conditions. To help slow the spread of this disease, it is essential to follow these rules. I am hopeful restoring the economy will follow but first things first. As our tradition has long taught, the greatest mitzvot are “to save life” and “choose life.”
Meanwhile, we have the very real challenge of the effects of social distancing which stated less euphemistically is called social isolation. As humans, we are designed to be social creatures and truly need the company of other people. The current situation is most challenging to those who live alone. Those of us with some family at home or roommates have someone to talk with on a regular basis. For some us, we are even being encouraged to have our food delivered and cannot reap the benefit of a simple trip to the market. Even for people accustomed to living alone, the new social distancing is making life even harder.
One mitigating factor is the use of social media and electronic communications to stay in touch with one another. In countries like Italy and Israel where people live in apartment buildings, it is possible to go out on the balcony and sing and talk to one another from a manageable distance. But not here. Here we need to make phone calls, use Facetime, texting, YouTube videos and online conferences. I am proud to report we are doing all of this and more at KI. From daily (sometime hourly) online programs created by our preschool to taped services, to special online prayers, we are reaching out as vigorously as possible. I will also work on more poems and other creative writing that helps me deal with my own social isolation. The rest of the staff is also exploring ways they can stay connected to you as well.
One particularly important effort is being spearheaded by our Cantor who is very concerned about the underprivileged children in our community receiving regular meals while they are out of school. A fund she created instantly attracted double the support she sought for it and volunteers are stepping forward to help with distribution. We are also looking into ways to maintain our food support of the homebound and isolated community members we regularly help. There is so much to be done and with each day, sometimes each hour, conditions change and predictions about the length of this plague change.
In a few weeks, we will sit down to our Passover Seders. This year, some of them may be virtual but still, they will be Seders. Ironically, our Seder includes the recitation of the Ten Plagues, usually a moment of levity. But not this year. This year we have the 11th Plague, the Corona Plague and a 12th Plague, the plague of social distancing and personal isolation. But, as always, we are taught not to despair. To find a way to turn social distance into a new kind of spiritual proximity. To work to maintain the bonds of community across the distance which has necessarily been imposed on us. Technology is our friend in this regard just as science will ultimately get us through this horrible moment. But just as we need science, we need each other, we need community and we need spiritual proximity. Together we will find new ways to sustain, deepen and build community. It will help get us through this plague and it will help restore us to the normal lives we now appreciate better.
May you be blessed with strength, courage and continued good health during these dark and frightening times and remember, you are not alone. We are all in this together.
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.