From the Rabbi’s Desk June,July, 2020
Rabbi Carla Freedman
FROM THE RABBI’S HOUSE
We are living through interesting times. We know that this coronavirus experience will be recorded, analyzed, and discussed in history books for generations. And that puts this moment in history into stark contrast with other times, especially in the history of our people.
For example, we know, both from Jewish writings and Roman writings, that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 CE. What we don’t know is how the Jews…the actual people…responded. We know, of course, that some of our sages attributed this calamity to the mindless animosity between various groups of Jews at the time, or to the unfaithfulness of the Jews to the teaching of YHVH. But how did the people cope? How did they feel? How did they explain this to their children?
We know that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain took place in August of 1492. Aside from the decision either to convert to Christianity or to flee the country, how did the Jewish people respond? How did they feel? How did they explain this to their children?
What did the Jews do, in Italy in the 14th century, when they were blamed for the bubonic plague? How did they cope with the verbal and physical attacks directed at them, when the death rate was conspicuously lower in the Jewish communities than in the Christian communities? (Why? 1) Because they were in ghettoes and therefore isolated from the rapid spread of the disease amongst Christians; 2) Because their religious practice was to bury the dead immediately, thus curtailing exposure to corpses; and 3) Because Jewish religious practice requires washing of hands before eating, and at other times.) How did they explain this to their children?
There are many such instances of calamities our people have experienced, but in most cases, the Holocaust being conspicuously different, we know nothing about how people understood what was happening to them, and we don’t know how they coped.
We now have the opportunity to record and analyze for ourselves and for our posterity how we are managing to get through this, day by day. We can consider how this disease is changing what we think of as “normal.” We can identify our fears, our hopes, our strengths, our weaknesses. We can reflect on how to live, going forward, so as to indicate what we have learned from this experience. We can relate how technology has impacted our lives in this situation. And we can examine our values before and after the virus struck.
Our descendants will want to know these things. And we cannot envision the world they will live in. We cannot even envision our world six or eight months from now: will large crowds ever assemble as they used to, for sporting events, for concerts, for political rallies, or religious services? Will we return to shaking hands, eating in crowded restaurants, traveling in tightly packed airplanes?
So go ahead. Make notes. Start a diary of reflections on your own experience, how you are coping, how you understand this pandemic. Your great-great-grandchildren will be grateful, and ultimately, so will humankind.