Posted tagged ‘unemployment’

Silver Linings and Rays of Hope: A COVID Reflection of Hope

May 23, 2020

This Shabbat, when we read Torah, we began our journey through its fourth book; the Book of NUMBERS.  As you may or may not know, the meaning of the Hebrew names of the books of the Torah do not necessarily match their English names.  The Book of NUMBERS is a perfect example.  In English, it is called “NUMBERS” because in its beginning, it does a deep dive into the taking of a census of the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land.  Its Hebrew name – BEMIDBAR – delivers quite a different message.  BEMIDBAR means “In the Wilderness.”

As I contemplated our entering the text of BEMIDBAR, I could not help but grasp the parallel with our own lives at this juncture of history.  For, like the newly liberated Israelites, we find ourselves wandering in a wilderness.  Just like our ancestors who were faced with the challenges of needing to traverse their wilderness, with all its difficulties and dangers, we, too, find ourselves faced with the challenges of needing to traverse a wilderness all our own.

Our wilderness is not like theirs.  It is not a wilderness which stretches across miles.  Its difficulties are not the burning desert sun, rough roads to travel, thirst and hunger.  Its dangers are not the fear of attacks from wild beasts, snakes, scorpions, and marauding tribes.  The difficulties and dangers of our wilderness come from this highly contagious and lethal disease which afflicts us today.  They are the difficulties embedded in our need to change our lives so dramatically in order to protect our lives; masks, physical distancing, sheltering at home, shortages at the grocery store, massive unemployment and the poverty and deprivations it entails, the upending of our world economy, the severely diminished education of our children, our inability to be in the physical presence of loved ones and friends, and, of course, the uncertainty of what the future holds for us – the new normal – and when that future will arrive.  As for the dangers, they are self-explanatory, or at least they should be, but for some inexplicable reason there are too many in our society who refuse to acknowledge them.  They are the dangers of our enormous vulnerability to a horrible disease which has the power to inflict unbelievable and prolonged suffering, and possible death, not to mention that unless we behave carefully and responsibly, we could bear the guilt of inflicting all of this upon others, including the people we love.  This is our wilderness.

Yes, the wilderness can be dark and dangerous, whether it be the wilderness of our ancestors or our own.  But even in its midst, there are silver linings and rays of hope which can be found.  Next Thursday evening, we as Jews will commence the celebration of one major silver lining, one major ray of hope, which our ancestors encountered in their wilderness. That silver lining, that ray of hope, changed the world and the history of humanity for all time, and changed it for the better.  The celebration I speak of, of course, is Shavuot, the festival of our receiving the Ten Commandments.  It was in the wilderness, with all its hardships, pain, and suffering, that our ancestors found themselves standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, and there, receiving directly from God, the ten most important rules which would, from that time forth, serve as the guiding principles for the advancement of humanity.

Like our ancestors, as we traverse our wilderness of COVID, there are silver linings and rays of hope to be found.  They do not diminish the hardships we must endure, just as the Ten Commandments did not diminish the hardships endured by our ancestors, but they can redeem our wilderness sojourn from being bereft of any meaning whatsoever, just as, in the same way, God’s gift of the Ten Commandments redeemed the wilderness sojourn of our ancestors.

Some may wonder:  What are these silver linings and these rays of hope which manifest themselves now, in our darkest hours?  They are rays of hope which have the potential to light the path to a better future in what eventually will be a post-COVID world.  But what are they?

One of them is that it has been determined that as a result of the pandemic and the restrictive changes in behavior that it has required of us, the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has been reduced by 17%, dropping to the levels of 2006.  This is but one of several positive impacts our lockdown has had on the environment, as we have been allowing nature to heal itself.  It shows us that if we can choose to change our behaviors, we can begin to ecologically repair our planet.  While it should go without saying that we cannot maintain lockdown protocols forever in order to save our planet, still we can change our attitude of “business as usual” and seriously engage in environmentally responsible behaviors, such as truly committing to the pursuit of alternative clean energy sources.  We have it within our ability to turn back the doomsday clock.

Another ray of hope found in our wilderness is that after 72-years of an ongoing Middle East conflict, it has taken this pandemic, with all its pain and suffering, to start to open a door for, at least a new beginning of Arab-Israeli cooperation.  Three Arab states – states that for all these years have been sworn enemies of Israel – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait – have turned to Israel for assistance in their struggles against the COVID-19 virus.  This is in no way a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it is a glimmer of a recognition of how the countries of the Middle East need each other in order to survive and prosper.  It is but one step toward a resolution of this tragic conflict.  As we march into the future, this moment should not be lost or forgotten by its players, Hopefully it will serve as a building block toward a kinder, gentler Middle East.

Still another ray of hope is born out of the very anguish of our wilderness.  This public health crisis has only accentuated some of the social problems that long existed before the world ever heard of the Coronavirus.  Specifically, the fundamental injustices inherent in the vast socio-economic divide which exists in our nation and the dire consequences of our failure to humanely address that divide.  As we watch how this virus has devasted members of our economically disadvantaged community, way out of proportion to their numbers in our society, we can no longer ignore or turn a blind eye to the evils of runaway, abusive capitalism, the maintenance by way of neglect of a permanent underclass, and the innate evil of systemic racism.  These are intolerable conditions in a society which claims to be great, enlightened, and just. – “With Liberty and Justice for ALL.  If, after the nightmare of witnessing what this pandemic has done to the disadvantaged of our society, we do not commit ourselves to closing the socio-economic divide, then the guilt rests on our shoulders.  If nothing else, this crisis has shown us the necessity of our building a more just society, but we need to choose to act on it.

Still another ray of hope coming out of our current dilemma is that we can no longer afford to think in nationalistic terms.  Yes, we can be patriotically proud of our nation, but we cannot continue to view our nation as being superior or separate from the community of nations.  Last week, I watched Rachel Maddow interview Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.  She asked an interesting and insightful question – “If you could turn back the clock to a time when you could have done something different in your response to the virus, when would that be and what would you have done differently?” His response was even more insightful. He said that while he was tempted to say March or February, actually he would have turned that clock back even earlier, to when we first were hearing about the outbreak in China.  With the wisdom of hindsight, he continued, saying that as soon as he heard of the Corona Virus outbreak in China, he would have started to prepare for its coming to New York. For, as he pointed out, in today’s world, when a virus strikes anywhere in the world, it can strike here tomorrow. All that is necessary is for one infected person to board a plane.  This pandemic should have taught us that we can no longer afford the foolishness of naively ignoring that we live in a global society.  Like it or not, we are intimately and inextricably bound to each other. Indeed, this is not new wisdom. As far back as 1624, the poet John Donne spoke of this reality when he penned his famous poem, “No Man Is an Island.” If, as a result of this pandemic, we can embrace this sense of international interdependence – that as a human race, we are at our best when our nations work together to build a better world – then the future we will build will be brighter and better than we ever dreamt.

Even in these dark hours, let us come to recognize and work to realize the lessons to be found in the silver linings and the rays of hope that, too, are products of this tragedy.  They cannot compensate for the suffering and the loss of life we have and we will endure, but they can show us the way to build a better world for tomorrow.  They redeem these days from the cruel fate of being totally meaningless blips of horror on the timeline of history.

Facing the Next Decade

December 31, 2009

Tomorrow evening is New Year’s Eve – well, the secular one anyway – and I find it hard to believe that on it we will be welcoming in the second decade of the 21st century.

It seems like only yesterday that we were living in anticipation and dread of Y2K; both the advent of the 21st century and the prophesied melt down of everything computer in the world.  Ironically, as we were filled with dread of the potential demise of our cyber-centered universe, I could not help be ponder how liberating that could be.  For I am one of those folks who is convinced that while technology has contributed much to our lives, even more has it enslaved us.  I remember when the hype was that the technological revolution would liberate us; provide us with more free time and leisure.  Well, tell that to the person who each morning opens their email to be greeted by 100 or more messages, some easily deletable but most expecting an instantaneous response – don’t think!  just write!  And then, of course, there are our cell phones.  When I was growing up – in the days of rotary dial corded phones – we did not even have answering machines, nevertheless cell phone.  That is, except for Dick Tracy with his two-way wrist radio – “Calling Dick Tracy!  Calling Dick Tracy!”  If someone called and you were not home, they would just have to call back later, or not.  Now they can call you anywhere, anytime.  “Hello?  Where are you?  You sound strange.”  “Maybe that is because I am in Phoenix, in a restaurant, in the bathroom!”  No escape.  We are prisoners.  And you wonder why in the secret recesses of my heart I carried the smallest hope that all that Y2K jabber was more than mere hype?

It seems like only yesterday we welcomed the 2000’s.  I remember so very well being at a house party with my children.  As midnight was approaching, we all left the house and walked to a nearby park which provided an excellent vantage point for the public fireworks which ushered in the new century.  And they were magnificent.  As I stood there, in the midwestern winter cold, with the display lighting up the night sky, I could not help but gaze upon my children and wonder whether or not they appreciated the import of the moment.  For here we were, parents and children together, celebrating a moment which none of us would ever live to see again; the start of a new century.  That would be the privilege of my grandchildren and great grandchildren; their children and grandchildren.  And I cannot even begin to attempt to calculate how many generations it will be before parents and children can once again stand together to welcome a new milennia.

How time has flown!  For we turn around and we are already entering yet another decade.  How I pray that we make far better use of our time in this coming decade than we did in the last.

O how we approached the 21st century with such hopes and dreams!  What promise it held for us!  The media was filled with reports featuring the various visions of the future held by both people of note and the man or woman on the street, and they all were positive.  Yet when I think back on these past 10 years, it pains me to consider how we have failed to live up to those visions, those promises, those hopes.  It pains me to consider how dark and dismal a decade was this first decade of this new century.  A bloody one, indeed, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with genocide in Darfur, with not one but four separate grisly conflicts between the Israelis and their adversaries, the Palestinians and Hezbollah – the Second Intifada, the invasion of the West Bank, the Lebanon War, and the Gaza War.  There has been brutal terrorism galore, the most agonizing incident of which, at least of us Americans, was 9-11.  Of course, that was not the only one.  Trains have been blown up, suicide bomber have struck both  inside and outside of Israel, missile and mortar attacks on civilian settlements in southern Israel, Mumbai.  The list is too long and too painful to recount in its entirety.

Nor was armed conflict this decade’s only ill.  Hunger remains a rampant disease afflicting our planet.  The number of its victims continues to grow rather than diminish.  As I write these words, our economy – our global economy – has seriously faltered.  Unemployment in our own great country is disgracefully high.  My wife was without a full time job for 13 months.  I thank God she finally found one she likes.  Far too many of her fellow Americans have not been nearly as fortunate.  As if these things were not bad enough, blind hatred has once again reared its ugly head in our land.  Hate groups are on the rise, spreading their bile about people of color, undocumented immigrants, and of course, Jews.  Even worse – yes, even worse – there are far too many who mask their prejudice in the sanctimonious cloak of religion.  These people profess to adhere to a faith doctrine of love while at the same time they take every opportunity to attack and degrade their fellow human beings simply because they do not share their sexual orientation.  They solemnly proclaim that they stand four square against any form of discrimination but that they also stand four square against any attempt to grant equal rights to those with a same sex orientation.  They wave their bibles as if those sacred texts were their personal license to persecute others.

One could even wonder whether or not God was intent upon crushing the new century’s promise of hope.  Tsunami, Katrina, Global Warming.  Enough said.

But ten years does not a century make.  We still have another ninety with which to work.  We still can make the 21st century the greatest century for humankind.  But whether or not that comes to fruition is entirely within our own hands.  It is up to us to decide to make this the century of peace rather than of war; of prosperity rather than of poverty; of dignity rather than of degradation; of hope rather than of heartache.

We may have squandered the first decade but if we so choose, the dream can begin now.  May this second decade usher in all the good we have longed for in this new century.

Happy New Year, one and all!