Our lives and the lives of every person on this planet have continued to be affected, directly and indirectly, for the past few months by COVID-19. The basic sense of security, stability and normalization have been interrupted and uprooted. No, I am not a physician, nor am I an expert in public health. All I have are my personal values, beliefs and thoughts that have helped to shape my perception surrounding these difficult times. Allow me to share some of those with you, now.
The Jewish High Holidays are once again knocking on our doors. There seems to be no better time to reflect on the past year, while also looking forward to the hope of our future in the coming new year. The dramatic impact that this once-in-a-century pandemic has had and will continue to have on our lives is beyond expression. That is why I think the battle against this virus is not only in the hospitals and in the suffering economies. It is in each and every one of us: The very nature of us as human beings, communities, and societies is at risk. That is why we all have to remember that fighting, and hopefully defeating, the pandemic is one thing. Doing so while protecting our most precious values, beliefs and human character is a different challenge altogether. Rosh Hashanah is the perfect opportunity to take a moment to remember who we are, what is important to us, and how we can stand together as a community in the face of these uncertainties, while nourishing our spirit as we look to a brighter future.
Sometimes numbers speak for themselves. The numbers that relate to COVID-19 are one of these cases. Here are a few figures: The global COVID-19 death toll has already surpassed 933,000 and is continuing to climb. In the U.S. alone, over 195,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. When talking about masses of people, we tend to forget the individual. That is why our sages emphasized the idea that every single person is important when they said, “Kol hamatzil nefesh achat k’ilu hitzil olam umlo’o” — “Everyone who saves one soul is as if he saved a world and its fullness.” Remembering that there are real people behind these numbers is not only important, but essential. Honoring those who have been taken by this horrible virus, standing side-by-side with others that continue to feel its devastating effects, and providing aid to those most vulnerable, are the tasks at hand.
Two of the most vulnerable communities in this pandemic are the elderly as well as individuals with underlying health conditions. Self-quarantining and social distancing are only two of the many methods health professionals recommend to try and prevent the spread and to inhibit mass infection. As Jews, one of our more fundamental mitzvot is visiting the sick. However, at a time when we are unable to physically visit and take care of others, we must find alternative ways to show our support and to provide assistance to at-risk groups and individuals in our communities. The Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest is continuing to work to do just this, adapt in these uncertain times and show that we are here standing with our communities in the Southwest region. From providing take-home-meals to frontline medical staff and hospital workers to offering warm meals to senior citizens from local kosher and Israeli-owned restaurants in the community, we are doing what we can to help make a difference. We continue to work in fulfilling our obligation to our fellow man while keeping ourselves and others safe.
Believe me when I say, I know that there are no easy solutions to address the challenges that we currently face. Moreover, unfortunately, there are difficult decisions that have to be made on a personal and communal basis. Our morals, values and strength are being tested to the fullest extent. Even in these most challenging times, we must do our part in having hope for the future and doing what we can for our community. I pray to the Almighty that we all will have the strength to stand up to these challenges. Let us define ourselves as righteous. If we do so, not only will we be doing the right thing but we will also be able to educate our children and our children’s children on cherishing life and obeying the fundamental Jewish law of “Ve’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha” — “Love your fellow neighbor as yourself.”
I send to all of my friends in all of the Jewish communities in the Southwest my personal greetings and hope that we will all be engraved in the Book of Life.
Shanah Tovah to y’all.
Gilad Katz is consul general of Israel to the Southwest.