We are a people who have seen it all. We were the first to recognize the one true God in heaven. We were enslaved for over 400 years in Egypt. We were redeemed from slavery, received the Torah, and wandered homeless in the desert for 40 years. We conquered a homeland and built up the city of Jerusalem, which included a glorious Temple designed to be a home for God. In the late 5th century BCE, We were exiled from that land and allowed to return 70 years later. We built a second Temple. The second Temple was destroyed and we were exiled again. This time we wandered the globe, from country to country and from continent to continent. Some countries were better to us than others. But mostly we were abused outsiders who were, eventually the genocide that came to be known as the holocaust. Ultimately we returned to our God-given homeland and have turned it into an economic and scientific powerhouse.
In short, we have had a front row seat to many of the great civilizations and events, both good and bad, that have occurred in this world. Because of the history of our people we are well suited to confront new issues as they arise, including covid-19.
While our history has made us resilient, it does not make the ability to live through times such as these any easier.
What does our tradition provide for us when we are living through a crisis? According to Rabbi David Golinkin, this is what we have learned as a people:
When Jacob was about to face Esau after many years of estrangement, and feared for his life, the first thing he did was to pray. When Jews are faced with a health crisis, they recite Psalms such as chapters 121 and 130 and the
prayer for those who are ill.
We are told in the Talmud (
39a) "All Jews are responsible for one another". This has always been the strength of the Jewish people, how much the more so in times of crisis.
We are all in the same boat
"Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: It can be compared to people who were in a boat and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat. His fellow passengers said to him: 'why are you doing this!' He said to them: 'What do you care? Am I not drilling under me?' They replied: 'Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!'" The entire world is in the same boat. If we do not help each other, we are in danger of sinking the entire boat.
Leave no one behind
We read in Numbers chapter 12 that Miriam was "shut out of camp for seven days [with leprosy] and the people did not march until Miriam was readmitted". From this we learn that when one person is quarantined, the rest of the community must wait for them until they recover.
Talk to each other
In the Talmud, Sotah 42b, there is a discussion of the verse (Proverbs 12:25): "If there is anxiety in a man's heart, let him ---". The question is, what does the last word mean? One rabbi says that he should put the anxiety out of his mind, while the other says that he should discuss it with others. Indeed, some people deal with a crisis by putting it out of their mind, but most people find comfort in talking about it with other people.
Rosh Hodesh Elul
, Ashkenazic Jews recite Psalm 27 twice a day. The final verse says: "Hope in the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage, yea, hope in the Lord." Indeed, it is not an accident that the Israeli national anthem is called
, the Hope.
While our tradition provides us with guidance, it is the initiatives that we take, for and with each other, that often makes the difference. When we realized that our JCC family would find itself immersed in "Social distancing", we wanted to make sure to that we touched base with as many of you as we could. And we did.
In truth, we reached out to you, but you touched us with your response. You were so grateful and so open to sharing your stories.
These are some of the coping skills you sugg
Walk the dog or if no dog, walk outside when the weather permits.
Catch up with friends and family via emails, phone calls, and video chats.
Observe nature outside, look at the trees, see the sky.
Count your blessings.
Try not to kill each other, LOL!
Call a neighbor if you are going out, see if you can pick up something that they need and drop off at their door.
Call and check on the sick or the elderly. Many of the senior day programs are no longer meeting right now.
One congregant will be helping to make lunches for the children in Little Egg Harbor who are on government assistance for their school lunch.
While most reports were good, one doctor I spoke with reported
that the stress of taking care of patients has been overwhelming. This is a reminder that we should be saying meaningful and heartfelt prayers for, and thanking, our medical professionals.
One of our callers reported, "that all I talked to appreciated the call, and with 3 of them (whom I don't know) our conversation lasted between 8 and 12 minutes. That is way longer than I ever speak with my kids."
One caller reported that she chatted with a lovely lady for half an hour after we discovered our Jewish Geography connections.
Another caller spoke with a lot of lovely folks. Those in Florida are planning on remaining there for a while! Several have children who are coming to LBI to stay here for the duration! Calling our congregants was a terrific idea!
What I have learned today from making check-up-calls to the many members of our community is that we are a 99.8 percent resilient group of positive and creative people who are prepared (at home) and are already proactive in helping others (neighbors and friends) during this setback. I am proud to be a member of the JCC of LBI.
Everyone I spoke with was genuinely touched with the reach out.
My takeaway from this community building exercise is that the "callers" and the "called" were each strengthened by this mitzvah. Now that is a win-win-win.
As one of our Executive Board members wrote to the callers: "You have in these difficult times done a great mitzvah,
an individual act of human kindness in keeping with the
commandment that "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)."
Despite the anxiety of the times, we have much to be proud of and thankful for.
Be safe, Be healthy, keep your distance, and wash, wash, wash.
Shabbat Shalom -Rabbi Michael S. Jay