Does it seem like people are behaving more kindly this week? Maybe it’s the sunshine. But maybe it’s the realization, amid all the alarming news and concerns over the spread of coronavirus, that we are all, truly, in this together.
We live in particular times that may be defined – especially as exemplified by some political leaders and their followers – as uncharitable, xenophobic, chauvinistic, mean-spirited and self-interested. These attitudes have been demonstrated, among other ways, in the attitudes of many people toward migrants from other places. These ideas trickle down to the way we treat one another – in traffic, in online interactions, in schools and workplaces, in voting – behaving in ways that take into consideration only (or mostly) our own well-being at the expense of the well-being of others. There are magnificent exceptions, of course, everyday acts of kindness and gestures of humanity great and small. But our age, it can probably be agreed, includes a lot of pettiness, intolerance and plain old snark.
Our parents or grandparents understood the meaning and necessity of sacrifice for the greater good. The communal effort during the Second World War, on the home front and among those serving, was a generationally defining undertaking. While wars, sadly, have continued, in our corner of the world, the burden has fallen on an increasingly smaller number of people – those families with members in the service. But, for at least a generation of North Americans, we have not been called upon for an unavoidable collective sacrifice for the greater good. Again, this is not to say that many people are not sacrificing for the greater good – individuals are devoting themselves to causes greater than themselves, including climate change, but they are doing so by choice. They may be driven by desperation, fear, environmental justice or other motivations, certainly, but, ultimately, it is voluntary.
Then along comes a virus with apparently incalculable potential to cause illness and death and we realize that we are not so separate after all. While they have resisted on issues like climate change, governments worldwide have stepped up (some of them more slowly and irresponsibly than others) and taken seriously the science that predicts grave consequences if we do not take urgent actions now. And individuals, in the first days of what will be an unprecedented period of unknown duration, appear surprisingly amenable to following government-issued restrictions on behaviour for the hope of long-term health, not only for themselves but for those who are more vulnerable due to age or underlying health conditions.
There is nothing good about a global pandemic. But good things happen when people act in unity to advance collective well-being. Individuals and groups have responded with astonishing immediacy when called upon to act. Places of public meeting, including restaurants and cafés, have faced the painful but unavoidable truth that they have to temporarily change their service model. This will have untold economic and social impacts as staff are displaced, with concentric circles as these workers lose purchasing power and these realities ripple through the economy, already suffering multiple unknowns and slowdowns.
In our community, synagogues and communal organizations have adopted stringent and unprecedented measures, many canceling live services and opting for alternative venues like online learning.
We witness the immediacy of these factors’ economic ripples. As our community cancels public events, advertisements are understandably pulled from our newspaper. As a result, we have made the choice to cancel an additional issue next month, and not publish for two weeks, April 10 and 17, rather than the scheduled one-week hiatus. We will have a healthy Passover issue on April 3 and we urge you to support our work and celebrate the holiday by considering advertising or inserting a greeting message in that issue or in the ones resuming April 24 and after.
In the meantime, as we come together to confront this very serious challenge, we are reminded, as Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz writes in this week’s issue writes in this week’s issue, we do not do so as Canadians or Chinese or Italians or Israelis. We are people living in different places who face the same pathogens and the same reality.
In Jewish tradition, the value of pikuach nefesh, of saving a life, overrides almost every other consideration. Among other things, this suggests that we should view our current situation through a slightly altered lens. While all of us should be doing everything we are advised to avoid getting the virus, we should be doing so not only, perhaps not primarily, for our own health, but in order to prevent us transmitting it to another person. For many of us who are younger or do not have underlying health concerns, COVID-19 could be a very unpleasant inconvenience. For others we know and love, it could be far more serious.
The top advice we have received is to wash hands with soap frequently and thoroughly, and also to stay home to avoid physical contact as much as possible. Some people are suggesting we treat these days like Shabbat. Spend time with family. Read books. Take a walk. Engage in passive activities. Turn off electronics for a time to avoid the noise of the world which, at this time, is particularly loud.
And be kind to one another. If you know of a senior or other person whose health could be endangered by going out, do their shopping. See what else they might need. Call your family and friends. Set up a virtual dinner party or a play date for your kids. Since you’re not spending money on restaurants and theatre, consider donating to charity and arts organizations.
This is all good advice. But we suspect, given some unscientific observations of kindness and communal care in the last few days, that most of us already know what to do.
For more information and latest updates from Canada’s public health authorities: canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html.