Every Jew is aware of antisemitism. We know that it is alive and well everywhere. We now fear that it won’t be alleviated any time soon. This is true in part because some people flout the rules and regulations pertaining to COVID-19. Those of us who are compliant are upset with the people who are not. We do not understand why some people still refuse to limit the size of their celebrations to immediate family members. Why, during this crisis, is it necessary to have large-scale engagement parties, weddings, and bar mitzvahs, even a b’ris, without insisting that all guests wear masks and that they maintain a six-foot distance from one another?
By now, everybody knows about Zoom and how it works. Through Zoom, one is able to be in virtual attendance at any celebration. Why are so many members of our community putting themselves, and others, at risk by refusing to do that? Even young children know better because they have been attending classes via Zoom. It isn’t perfect, but it works.
Outdoor gatherings are considered somewhat safer than those held indoors, but not by much. It isn’t possible to wear a mask while eating or drinking, and eating and drinking are what guests do at a simcha. The second problem is that at many of these celebrations, social distancing is not observed. It is bad enough that these people are hurting themselves, but they are potentially hurting others because they are causing the virus to spread. This is nothing less than a chillul Hashem, as they are acting immorally in the presence of others. Jews and gentiles alike will be hurt if they should fall ill to the virus, and Jews will be further injured because it is likely to raise antisemitism to new levels.
Jews are not the only ones contributing to the rise in coronavirus cases. It appears that the biggest number of super spreaders is attributed college students of all faiths. But not all adults are without blame, since far too many of them — people who should know better — continue to hold large gatherings. It must be acknowledged that not all celebrations are unsafe. In recent months, many weddings have been celebrated with considerable safety measures in place. Many spiritual leaders are doing their best to advise community members. Rabbis in several communities continue to send emails pleading with people to do the right thing by wearing masks and obeying social distancing rules. Unfortunately, in many instances, those messages appear to fall on deaf ears. It is to those who refuse to listen that this piece is being addressed.
Orthodox Jews are more visible than the average Joe Schmoe — no offense to Mr. Schmoe. While females today wear pants, most Orthodox Jewish women wear skirts. While most men go hatless, Orthodox men wear kippot or black hats. This makes it easy to identify Orthodox Jews.
This is being written on a day when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he will be meeting with religious leaders of the Orthodox community and with local officials. He spoke of Orthodox Jewish communities being a public health concern for their community as well as for surrounding communities, and he added that there have been hotspots before but that this is probably the largest cluster.
My inclination was to sit down and write this piece immediately after hearing the governor speak. That didn’t work out because a severe headache suddenly developed, forcing me to take a painkiller and lie down on my bed. I felt the need to hide, so, while I was at it, I pulled the cover over my head for a few minutes. I eventually recovered and tossed the cover aside. But my recovery is minimal as many hours have passed since I heard Cuomo speak and I am still unsettled — unsettled being my personal euphemism for feeling horrified, mortified, and petrified. It was frustrating to learn that almost all of the New York hotspots are the areas in which my brethren reside. It is a stretch for me to refer to them as my brethren, because no brother or sister of mine would behave so badly. My parents raised their children to be socially responsible. One wonders how these individuals, who continue to do just as they please, were raised.
Two groups of people contribute to the problem: those who host large gatherings without safeguards in place, and those who are foolish enough to attend them. Initially I was puzzled by the large attendance. I wondered why people would put themselves at risk. Eventually, I realized that it may stem from the acronym known as FOMO, fear of missing out. Folks who suffer from FOMO have a need to “see and be seen,” and since that can best be accomplished by being in attendance, Zoom does not work well for them.
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling powerless, which is how responsible people feel about this issue. An option open to invitees is to decline invitations to large gatherings and to keep the following in mind: a baby can have a b’ris without a crowd, a couple can get married without a crowd, and, on a sad note, deceased people can be interred without a crowd. Taking it a step further, mourners can sit shivah without being in a crowded room; they can be effectively visited and comforted by people who speak with them via the aforementioned Zoom.
There is no way to be certain who reads my columns, or to know who will agree with me or draw any conclusions from what I have penned. Nevertheless, in the spirit of optimism, especially at the start of the New Year, I will do my best by saying, “Wake up, people, and be aware that innocent people may contract corona because of your thoughtlessness. Think of it this way: some people may succumb to the virus and might not wake up at all.”
This is a painful concept, but the truth is sometimes painful. That’s just the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.