The high-tension wire pulling between the urge to restart the economy and the necessity to protect human life grows ever more taut. Some counties and states have partially reopened, while others remain in lockdown. One thing is certain: The coronavirus is still very much with us, and the danger has in no way abated.
That’s why the Jewish community has remained steadfast. Protecting human life takes priority.
In states such as Texas and Georgia, where bans on gathering for public worship have been lifted, synagogues have declined to open their doors, noting the high risk of spreading infection.
In the Bay Area, where restrictions remain among the toughest in the country, rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders understand the necessity for the ongoing lockdown and abide by the restrictions. As of press time, five of our region’s six Jewish overnight camps had announced they will not hold sessions this summer. That’s hard for campers and their parents to hear, but it’s the right thing to do.
That’s not to say that these same leaders are not looking forward to the day when our synagogues, JCCs and other Jewish institutions reopen. They are not only anticipating it, they’ve already begun planning for the new normal that lies ahead.
With the pandemic raging, the Jewish community will continue to err on the side of caution.
With the pandemic raging, the Jewish community will continue to err on the side of caution. As noted by Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Jewish playbook for handling this crisis is grounded in Jewish values, among them avoiding sakanat nefeshot (endangering life), practicing chesed (mercy, lovingkindness) and upholding kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh, meaning all Jews must look out for each other.
There are voices in this country urging immediate reopening, even as infection rates increase and more people die. One lieutenant governor proclaimed that ”There are more important things than living,” while the president suggested that Americans think of themselves as warriors on a battlefield, risking their lives to make sure the economy survives.
This is dangerous nonsense. Jewish values hold that nothing is more important that human life, and to save human life is the noblest of endeavors. That is what our institutions do every day they remain closed. The people who run these centers of Jewish life know that the financial devastation may force some to close permanently, and yet they hold the line.
We will reopen one day, and we will come back together. But until then, the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, saving life, is our priority.