Friends, I appreciate all of the support and appreciation for what
I said at the event for faith leaders (I speak 36 minutes in) and what I
said on CNN with Don Lemon the other night. It's always nice to feel
appreciated. I feel I need to clarify a few things.
First, I truly appreciated the opportunity to be able to share
my thoughts and those of the Jewish community with the Vice President,
Governor, and our Senators. That is an opportunity that doesn't come around
very often in any circumstance. I am thankful and feel honored that I was
considered and invited. I thank Gov. Reynolds and the White House for giving me
the opportunity. We need dialogue that includes different points of view. That
needs to be encouraged, especially in this polarized political climate. That
said, even more diversity of respectful viewpoints would have been better. I was the only non-Christian clergy member in the group.
Second, I wore a mask at the event because as I stated on CNN Tonight, I wear one whenever I'm going out and going to be around people I am not normally around. Having survived bypass surgery, courage is going out and doing things while wearing a mask. It doesn't require being foolhardy and taking unnecessary risks. The greatest thing we have to fear, isn’t fear itself, it’s reality. We all need to address our reality in our own way. Those who have health concerns should consider wearing masks regardless of whether or not they're significantly afraid of getting COVID, just like people with risk factors for heart disease should consider keeping their Cholesterol low whether or not they think they’re at high risk for an immanent heart attack. Adapting to risk isn’t a sign of fear, it’s wisdom.
Those who have been around people who are known to have COVID should consider wearing masks, not because they think they're ill, but because they want to protect the health of those they come into contact with in case they are ill. A cloth mask may reduce your risk of inhaling viral material, though it is not as effective as a medical grade n95 mask, but it definitely helps prevent you from breathing, coughing, shouting, singing, or sneezing large droplets across a room.
Peer pressure, including political peer pressure, can be dangerous here, if it discourages those who should be wearing a mask from doing so, because they want their friends to like them, because it isn't comfortable to wear a mask and any excuse not to is easy to take, or because "they don't want to appear afraid."
Additionally, there are people who can't or shouldn't wear a mask because of their own health concerns. Rather than suggesting that such people not go out of their homes or that they accept grave risk, those of us who can wear a mask can do so to lessen their risk of catching COVID from us.
Third, I do not understand why wearing masks around our state and national officials is not required standard security protocol right now. We can debate whether or not the President, Vice President, or Governor should wear a mask themselves during a press conference or program and under what circumstances, with all sorts of arguments that can be made that they should be able to speak without them with certain protective measures like proper social distancing having been taken, but it really makes little sense at all that others who are attending in whatever fashion, as staff, as journalists, as clergy sharing their thoughts, or in any other way should even have the option not to wear one when around those leaders.
Our elected officials have security personnel in place to prevent harm from coming to them and many measures are taken to prevent disruptions in the chain of command. A single person with COVID, even without a fever, could start coughing and within days put a political leader in the hospital or worse. Don't get me started about the obvious fact that people can take medicine to lower their temperatures, making the on the spot tests at events and programs highly unreliable, and expel a huge sneeze in a room full of important people. Even if the leaders just have to self-isolate for a few days, it is a disruption in leadership. Why isn't wearing a mask around them then a security issue? And around the VP and President wouldn’t it be a matter of national security? In fact, one could argue that this would be the case around the vitally important leaders of the task forces that are in place to help us fight the epidemic as well.
Wearing masks around people who might be vulnerable, and you
may well not know who is vulnerable, should be expected, not just encouraged,
for anyone who cares about the health of other people. In other words, for a while to come, in
crowds of strangers, everyone should be wearing masks when they can and
maintaining physical distance, especially if they can’t wear a mask or if they choose not to wear one for whatever reason, such as
will be the case for diners in reopened restaurants.
Fourth, mitigation efforts were put in place to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. Restrictions on freedom are not tolerable for long and the idea that states of emergency can be maintained indefinitely without any legal challenges is anathema to democracy. We consider those concerns alongside the principle of pikuach nefesh in the Jewish tradition, saving a life. Our synagogues and temples aren't going to swiftly return to normal just because we're free to do so, if we wanted. Could is not Should.
We have significant numbers of people who attend our in-person services who are particularly vulnerable because of age or medical conditions. Many are elderly. No few attend because they’re facing health challenges. Others come because they’re thankful for finally overcoming them. We like to hug, which we cannot do right now. We like to have communal meals, which we cannot do right now. Our services are based on singing and chanting, which we cannot do right now.
We urgently want to return to anything like normalcy, but right now what we’re able to do in online services, singing and seeing each other’s smiles, celebrating Kiddush at the end of services with glasses held high together, is much closer to normal than what we would be able to do in person with social distancing, masks, and concerns about choral and communal singing. We have a history of adapting to challenging environments and we are up to the task in this one as well.
We will need to have people able to get back to work. The calculus that I’ve seen of “even if it saves one life” doesn’t work. Lockdowns are costing lives as well, some from depression and anxiety, some from people not going to the doctor or not taking care of their health in other ways including not being able to easily get away from abusive situations at home, and others will be lost from the impact of economic hardship in the aftermath of this, including ones lost because state and federal income along with income of vital institutions will be severely impacted until well after the economy begins to recover, harming the ability to maintain and fund helpful programs,. So many beloved communal institutions that are desired and needed are being crushed by extreme financial shortfalls.
Yes, if we open too soon and without proper precautions, we could see a return to concerns about rising cases. We could open up and then have to close down again. We know that spread will increase as we reopen our economy and people physically interact. That is certain. But there are also grave consequences for remaining closed.
None of this is simple. We need to work together. It is important to “reopen” safely and responsibly. We need to focus attention on those who are most at risk, but understand that everyone, including children, is at some risk, potentially other than those who have immunity from having had COVID and recovered from it, if that really provides lasting immunity (and assuming we have a reliable test). We need readily available PPE and we need easily accessible rapid testing. Some things realistically can't happen until we have a vaccine.
We cannot go through life avoiding all risk. But we don’t need to be foolhardy either.
Wear a mask appropriately. Keep social distancing. Keep washing your hands.
Reach out to your family and friends. Support those who are in need.
Take care of your health, mental and physical.
Be gracious to people as well. We don’t all see things the same way. Some readers are without a doubt thinking of arguments against some of the points that I have made. Be willing to listen to the views and concerns of others as much as you are to share your own opinions. And give people a break!
We’re all stressed out. Even though you may be super on edge, others may even be worse off. That stressed out grumpy person in the store may be unable to visit a family member in the ICU or maybe just lost a job and is wondering how they’re going to pay for groceries next month.
People who you know are going to get sick. You might, yourself.
People who you know may even be hospitalized. You might, yourself.
Many of us already have had people near and dear to us die of COVID.
This has been an awful experience for many people.
All lives are precious.
Be gracious. Be humble. Remember the words of Hillel, “When those around you are not acting like human beings, be a human being.” Try to be a mensch.
It isn’t going to be easy to get through this. Getting through it isn’t going to be about not being afraid, when fear is appropriate. It’s going to be about courage, facing our fears, and about wisdom, facing our fears in the wisest of ways, responsibly. It is not courageous to deny reality. Courage is accepting the challenges that reality presents and taking them on. Wisdom is understanding if, when, and how to do so.
We don’t need to take unnecessary risks, but living life is in part about taking them.
In our highly polarized environment, this is precisely a time for moderation. I am glad that I have been able to play a part in finding the right path. I hope that we as a nation will be able to work together. We will make it through this because we acted wisely and courageously, with concern about the possible rapid spread of illness and impacts upon those who are vulnerable and concern about freedom and the economy, not only focusing on some of these and not the others.
Love your neighbor and
It will be dark for a while, but a new dawn will rise before long.