In my worst nightmares I could not have imagined the situation that we are in today. A common expression is “misery loves company.” Today, misery has plenty of company. By now, many people in our community know a person who has died from the coronavirus. It feels like, as sung by Kew Gardens Hills natives Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, “Nothing but the dead and dying in my little town.” For the first time in my life, I looked forward to Shabbos so I would not be able to hear about people who just died. Unfortunately, I did hear about a neighbor who did die, though I don’t know if it was from the coronavirus. Also, many people have become unemployed due to the virus and have watched their investments in the stock market tank due to COVID-19.
The challenge is getting through this without losing your mind. This level of stress, anxiety, and depression is something that we never had to deal with. There will be people who will be unable to deal with it and will commit suicide. It is not a bold statement to predict an increase in suicides. There will also be those who will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. Many mental health professionals are predicting this.
There are those who have dealt with this situation as if it is business as usual. For example, in last week’s Queens Jewish Link, a columnist who frequently lavishes praise on the president wrote an article praising the president, and a person who frequently writes a Letter to the Editor bashing me and the Democrats, wrote a Letter to the Editor bashing me and the Democrats. If acting like nothing has changed helps for them to get through this, then let it be.
As I sat in my Forest Hills office on 9/11, I remember hearing frequent sirens of vehicles passing. I stayed in my office and did my work, trying my best to act as if nothing had changed. But these times are different, and I am older. If I was able to do that now, I would be writing an article about Trump’s revenge, firing the Inspector General who brought the whistleblower’s report to Congress and his defending the Navy’s relieving Caption Crozier of his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The coronavirus feels like going through Chinese water torture; it is spreading day by day, with no known end in sight. The experts have no idea how many people will contract it, die from it, or how long it will last and whether it will come back. And if it does return, they do not know how bad it will be. Since I have not yet been tested, I have no idea whether I have the virus. Could I be one of those who is asymptomatic? I can appreciate those who are also in the same position and are thinking that even if they do not have the virus today, there is no guarantee that they will not get it. Also, it is understandable why people are fearful that if they cough it may mean that they have the virus and could end up on a ventilator, chas v’shalom.
In the past, I have written about the idea of before Rosh HaShanah making the argument to G-d that I am “too big to fail.” In other words, if a person’s actions have an effect on so many people, then G-d should let them go through the year with good health. However, there are people in this community who have had an effect on so many people in one year that I will never be able to do in my life and they are gone, and I am still here.
Sorry it is not business as usual. We cannot pretend that nothing has changed. Furthermore, when this is over, we cannot go back to the way it was. There must be change in our lives and society at large.
We live in a divisive society. There have always been disagreements between Republicans and Democrats, but it has reached a new level. The coronavirus does not discriminate between Republicans and Democrats, Trump supporters or those who despise him. It has forced Congress, which has not been able to agree on much, to quickly pass bi-partisan legislation to deal with this crisis. Unfortunately, there are those from both parties who have not gotten the message that this is not the time to engage in partisan attacks. I hope even when it is over that people will change their approach and understand that we can disagree but disagree on the facts and not engage in unnecessary personal attacks.
Last month we celebrated Purim. We celebrate it in the month of Adar, but the key events occurred during the period that we are in. The Jewish community in the beginning of the month of Nisan found out about the King’s decree per Haman’s request to annihilate the Jewish people. Queen Esther requested that the Jews fast on the first three days of Passover before she went to see the King. Fasting on a Yom Tov was a shocking message of how dire the situation was, and that action had to be done right away. The Jewish community stepped up and changed their ways. Queen Esther went to the King two times, which led to the death of Haman in Nisan, and later the other enemies of the Jewish people in Adar.
We must first examine ourselves. What can we do to improve our relationship with G-d and fellow man? We are still here for a reason.
There have been so many uplifting stories of people who have gone beyond the call of duty to help save lives. It has given me strength in these trying times. I will just mention two. The first is the act by fellow Jew Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. The governor of Massachusetts mentioned about the shortage of equipment for healthcare workers. Kraft immediately sprang into action. He bought one million two hundred thousand N95 masks and flew a private jet to China to pick up and deliver the supplies. This was at his own expense. He used his money and connections to help save lives.
The second hero is the former commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier. Crozier was afraid that his sailors were getting sick from the coronavirus but nothing was being done about it by the Navy so he wrote a letter to the Department of the Navy stating in part that “We are not at war,” “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors.”
The contents of the letter were leaked to the media and, as a result, sailors are being removed from the ship and tested for the virus. As of Saturday, April 4, 155 tested positive. Lives were saved because of Caption Crozier’s action. Crozier knew that it may affect his career and he was right. Unfortunately, the Secretary of the Navy, with President Trump’s blessing, relieved him as commanding officer of the ship. Crozier understood that saving even one life was so important that he had to do it even if he professionally suffered because of it. The irony is that it happened on the ship named after Theodore Roosevelt, who, as pointed out by Tweed Roosevelt, his great-grandson, did the same to save his men from malaria in the 1898 Spanish-American War.
These individuals are just two of many who have shown us how we should react to this ongoing tragedy.
Each of us, in a small way, can make a difference. If we are proactive and not paralyzed by the situation we are in, we will not only be able to get through this pandemic, but we will be greater people when it is over.
Have a happy and healthy Passover!