As Jews, we’re acutely aware of our core Jewish values: help others, perform mitzvot, respect human dignity and life, love your neighbour as yourself, act morally, save lives, repair the world. But do we actually do those things? As we’ve heard before, it’s the duty of every single person to leave the world better than he or she found it.
During this unprecedented time, when the world is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, now, more than ever we need to remind ourselves of Jewish morals and ethics. And be better Jews.
Exceptional times typically bring out both the worst and the best in people. I’m choosing to focus on the best, though. For instance, folks around the world going outside at a set time every day to make noise and show their gratitude for frontline workers – and not just the doctors, nurses and caregivers, but also grocery store cashiers, letter carriers, pharmacists, delivery people, tradespeople, chefs and taxi drivers. Anyone and everyone who puts themselves in harm’s way each day, to keep us safe, fed and healthy.
If we don’t, as a society, learn the value of showing gratitude and generosity in desperate times, we become a society without a soul. If we think only of ourselves, we become lacking in conscience and void of morality.
What I know for certain is this: if a Jew needs something, another Jew should always step up and help out. It’s what we are supposed do. It’s what we’ve always done, most of the time. It might even be embedded in our DNA. In fact, we’re commanded to do it. Here are some tips for being a better Jew during COVID-19 (and always):
- Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. This may sound trite and over-used, but it’s true: your health is everything. I have suffered a long and serious illness and it’s shown me that nothing is more important than having your health. Unless it’s faith.
- Be an active participant in life – this is not just a long lunch break. There is more to life than Netflix and reading (says the retired librarian). There are meaningful things you can be doing with all your spare time now. Think about where you can be of service, and whom you can help.
- Practise random acts of kindness, compassion and loving care for your fellow human being – remember the Golden Rule. It can be something as simple as thanking a healthcare worker or letter carrier you see walking on the street. It doesn’t take much to show someone that they’re needed and appreciated.
- Practise generosity – share, don’t hoard. Surprise a family member or friend with a meal or small gift that might just make their day. It can be something as simple as an extra few rolls of toilet paper or a container of disinfectant wipes (COVID-19 gold). Something that lets them know you’re willing and happy to share. Just remember physical distancing! A friend of mine recently brought me some extra face masks she had on hand (again, coronavirus gold).
- Offer to do errands (grocery shopping, picking up a prescription, walking a dog, etc.) for family, friends or acquaintances in need. Be someone’s hero. People won’t always be comfortable asking for help, so be proactive and offer, if you can.
- Cultivate faith (emunah) and trust (bitachon) in G-d, that everything will be OK. Life is easier when you have a higher power on your side and understand that there are many things you can’t control.
- Check in regularly with single friends and seniors, in particular. Isolation can be devastating, especially when it’s ongoing. Even if you can just wave to a friend or family member through a window, that might just be their only human connection all day (or all week). It costs nothing and it’s priceless. Small gestures can have big impacts. Help people feel part of their community.
- Show gratitude every day, because there is always something for which to be grateful. Whether it’s big (your good health) or small (cherry blossoms on the trees), appreciate the abundance in your life. It’s everywhere you look. Just keep your eyes open. And get out there at 7 p.m. every day and clap your hands or bang your pots and pans, to show your thanks to all the frontline workers who turn up for us every single day to make our lives easier. We are one big family – show the love!
- Keep in mind the social and economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is having on everyone. Be sensitive to the situations of those less fortunate than yours. If you can, offer financial help, food or any other kind of assistance when you see the need.
- Volunteer your time delivering food or supplies to others if you’re healthy and able. Contact and get involved with your local synagogue, Jewish Family Services, the Kehila Society or any other organization, Jewish or non-Jewish, working to alleviate the many needs right now.
- Stay positive – for yourself and others. Positivity is the best medicine during this stressful time.
- Be your best self. Let your innate goodness shine through. Remember we each have a tiny piece of divine soul within us.
- Do mitzvot – tip the scales for good.
- Give tzedakah. You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference in someone’s life. Every little bit helps.
- Study a bit of Torah or other spiritual texts, if you’re so inclined.
- Recite Psalms, if you’re so inclined. (I have a copy that includes English commentary, and this makes it so much more meaningful when I read them. It started out slowly for me, but now I find huge comfort in reading Psalms. Why not give it a try?)
- Participate in some online classes or listen to speakers via Zoom video presentations. There’s a lot of inspiration and new perspectives to be gleaned, and goodness knows we could all use some of that right now.
- Keep busy by finding purpose in your life. This is so important, especially right now, when there is so little to distract us from the devastation of COVID-19. Try to look for the good in every situation – it will serve you well. I’ve been on both sides of that wall and believe me when I say that staying positive will make your life much easier.
Here are some simple rules to live by (unknown source): help others without being asked; help people who cannot help you; help without the expectation of return; help many people; do the right thing the right way.
Remember that, every second of every day, we make choices. Choose to be good and do good. You can’t go wrong with that.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.