June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Last week’s inspiring article about the outdoor Passaic minyan (“Snow? S’No Problem!” February 4, 2021) contained a quote that touched me (“It has enabled me to attend minyan again and share the burden of worry with others who either feel or respect how I feel during this pandemic.”), and at the same time made me feel sad.

On one hand I am eternally grateful to the people and institutions that do respect how I feel and, for example, have gone so far out of their way to enable me to continue safely davening with a minyan for all these months. On the other hand, in my own personal experience, people who respect how I and others like me feel during this pandemic are few and far between, and that has made me feel discouraged about our community.

In fact, many of my encounters for the better part of a year have been with people who do not seem to respect how I feel. In the earliest stage of the pandemic when I told people that I would stop shaking hands in shul (which was an awkward decision for me, being a gabbai), I was mocked. I was pressured at various points during the pandemic by people close to me to take what I felt were unsafe risks. I have been to simchas, shivas, esrog sales and other places where the event was advertised as outdoors and masks required, only to arrive and find the event was indoors and/or with masks apparently optional. Of course, I have been invited to simchas and shiurim for which the topic of distancing and masking was not addressed at all. Trips to places such as the grocery store or the keilim mikvah, are fraught with anxiety because we know we will be exposed to people who refuse to wear a mask properly, or at all. Requesting curbside pickup of take-out food or other items tends to earn me a long wait, since I am usually served only after every other person inside the store has been taken care of.

I could go on and on with these examples. Being subjected to countless micro-exclusions, and occasional major exclusions that are too personal to list here, has been draining on me and on people close to me.

Yet somehow, I have not experienced the same level of exclusion when dealing with stores, employers and people who are not Jewish. This phenomenon of the non-Jewish world around me seeming to care more about their neighbor than my own community does is a contradiction that I have not yet found a resolution to. I don’t know if I will ever.

I understand that people need to live their lives in a pandemic. Children can’t stay home from school indefinitely. People need to daven. Families need to earn a living. Human beings have the need for social interaction. It’s unrealistic to lock everyone up in a bubble for months on end. But can’t we live our lives while also caring about our neighbors?

I have generally been a very upbeat, glass-is-half-full person for my entire life. Until this year. This past year has taken a toll on me and changed me, and I don’t mean the pandemic itself. I mean the reaction of so many in our community to this pandemic. I mean the glaring absence of care and concern for how others feel and sharing in their burden during this pandemic. I have questions, and no answers. I feel a disconnect from my community and though I hope and pray that this pandemic will end soon, when it does I do not know if I will be able to find it within me to re-engage with my community the same way I did before, and this thought breaks my heart.

This brings me to another article in last week’s issue, “Death by COVID” (February 4, 2021). The author makes a valid point: It can serve to cheapen the life of a deceased person, and especially a person as accomplished as Rabbi Twerski, zt”l, when the headline is not about how he lived but rather his cause of death. However, in the current climate I would argue that it is a public service and obligation to let people know the cause of death. Many people ignore COVID and don’t pay it any attention unless it tragically hits closer to home. But unfortunately the reality is that COVID is still circulating, people are still getting seriously ill from COVID, some people after months of illness still have not fully recovered from COVID and people are still dying of COVID—even famous people, even gedolei yisroel. Therefore, those who have a platform to do so have a responsibility to remind people of these facts, in the hope that it could inspire some to take precautions which could save lives—maybe even the life of someone they know and love.


Sandy Penn lives in Passaic.

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