Carousel on the Mall

The carousel on the Mall
© Judah Lifschitz 2020

April Fools Day is no joke

Day 16. This is no April Fools joke. This is real. People are dying and yesterday even President Trump was forced to admit that social distancing, notwithstanding, hundreds of thousands of Americans will die and Americans will be under stay at home orders for weeks if not months to come. The United States is in a battle for “control” with a killer.

Control. We all want to be in control. We all try to chart the course of our lives and destiny . We hate not being in control. We are uncomfortable when we can’t predict our future; whether long term and short term. And even though we know in our hearts of hearts that we can never really be in control, we still try to have some modicum of what we tell ourselves is “control” over our lives. The Coronavirus is demonstrating for all of mankind that though we may believe (or fool ourselves) that we have or can exert control over our lives, the truth is otherwise.

Years ago I translated and published my first book titled, Heaven Sent, Stories of Faith and Effort. The original book , in Hebrew, was authored by a Jerusalem rabbi and its theme, expressed via stories, was a simple one. When it comes to money – earning a livelihood, making investments, wealth, poverty etc., man is not in control. He can and must make an effort but in the end man should know that success and failure is in His hands.

Whether one is a person of faith or not, each day’s brutal developments of this pandemic demonstrate all too vividly that we can not “control” the Covid-19 virus. All we can do, what we must do, is fight back and try to limit the human and economic destruction which it is causing.

We are not in “control”. It is an important life lesson.

Stay at home

Day 15. Yesterday the Governors of Maryland and Virginia and the Mayor of DC all issued mandatory Stay at Home orders. And while no one can say when these orders will ultimately be lifted ,it is pretty clear that we will be staying at home for weeks, at the very least.

In some respects I have have found working from home and staying at home a bit less stressful than my normal routine. My typical day – even on the weekend – is jammed packed by design. I often tell people that I view time as an enemy. Therefore I start my day early in the morning and end late at night with little downtime in between. I am up y no later than 4:45 am; out of the house by 6:30 am; in my office no later than 8:30; with my first meeting often at 7:30 am at a local favorite breakfast cafe; home around 7:30 pm to eat dinner; out by 8:30 pm to attend or teach a nightly Talmud class; and home at 10:00 pm. Over these past 15 days not having to commute and not having to run from meeting to meeting has reduced the stress of maintaining my hectic schedule. The problem is that while its nice to have less stress working from home means that I am less physically active. That is not good.

Normally I spin on Sundays and workout with a trainer at our law firm’s gym twice a week. Since I have been working remotely I have substituted 2 more spin classes in place of the personal training. But what’s is missing is all the going from here to there; the walking, the running, the daily physical activity that you do not even think of as “exercise”. So, this morning as soon as I complete this blog post I am going to get out of here and take a brisk walk, mild run in my neighborhood and see if this will work as a replacement for all that daily hustle bustle that I am missing as I comply with the Stay at Home orders.

The New Normal

The New Normal
© Judah Lifschitz 2020

Hand Written Signs

Day 14. I was in New York City the entire week of 9/11. I was representing the State of New Jersey in a large construction case and would stay in midtown Manhattan at the Penn Club and take the train each morning to Trenton. On the morning of 9/11 I left the Penn Club at 6:30 am, proceeded to Penn Station, and boarded a train to Trenton to take a deposition that day. By 10 am the deposition was interrupted and the world changed. Ultimately, I made it back to Manhattan that night and spent the rest of the week in NY/NJ.

I vividly recall the walls of Penn Station lined with hand written signs and pictures of the missing whose families were desperately looking for information about their missing loved ones. It was, to say the least and the obvious, terrible. Tears welled up in my eyes as I walked passed the pictures of the missing. The signs and pictures remained for a few weeks and soon were, unfortunately, no longer needed as the 3,000 plus dead were identified and confirmed.

This pandemic is worse. We have now reached the point (and the worst has yet to come) that every day begins for me with checking the internet news to see how many and who have died. And all too often I know someone who has been was felled by this virus.

I have never experienced war first hand. Now I am.

Conclusion of Sabbath

Day 13. The conclusion of the Sabbath brought news of growing numbers of infected, and deaths. It seems as if a day does not go by when I do not learn of someone I know who has been infected or is in critical condition or has passed away. Just today I learned of a close friend’s brother who is in critical condition on a ventilator in NYC and then learned that the father of one of my grandson’s friends passed away in his 50s from Covid-19. And this is not the end. There will be more.

How do we combat our feelings of hopelessness.?How do we come to terms with the glaring fact that we do not have control over our very lives ? For those of faith there is prayer; there is a deep a belief that the Almighty has a plan.

For those who struggle with faith – indeed for all of us – this pandemic is a teaching moment. this virus is teaching us a bitter but important lesson. One which if we accept and integrate into our minds and hearts will enable us to get through the coming weeks and months to create better world when this is all over.

What do I mean? Consider the following: while the virus appears very much to be in control the is one thing we can do save ourselves is to practice social distancing, stay home and avoid contact with others. At first such practices appear rather selfish. But further analysis reveals that these practices are the very opposite of selfish. They are intended to save all of us. Because we are all equal in the eyes of Covid-19, we can defeat the virus only when we all follow the guidelines. No one person on earth can stop the virus. Only the united cooperative effort of each of us can bring an end to this madness.

We should learn an important lesson from this new reality. “I”, “Me”, my selfish needs and desires will not get us to where we need to be. Only when each of us thinks not simply about ourselves but rather when we unite and care about others as much, if not more than we care about ourselves, only then will there be an end to the pandemic.

We can combat our fear and hopelessness right now by taking affirmative action to help someone else through this crisis. A parent, a child, a friend, a stranger. There are many opportunities to help others right from your home. Let’s not wait until its all over to change. Let’s change right now.

Day 11. All this talk about numbers – numbers of infected, numbers of deaths, percentage comparisons to the flu, all these statistics – they depersonalize the tragedy that is this pandemic. The stats and the various interpretations we hear from different analysts do not and can not convey to those of us who are healthy and cloistered in the safety of our homes the true insidious character of this pandemic. That quickly changes, however, the first time you open a newspaper or read on the internet about someone you know who has become critically ill or has died from the Covid 19 virus.

Having grown up in New York City and with children , grandchildren and most of our family living in the New York metropolitan area, I follow closely the situation there. Each day, as the crisis there worsens, I learn of friends and acquaintances who have contracted the virus; some of whom are so critically ill that requests to pray for them fill social media and WHATSAPP chats. I am talking about people who were healthy, vibrant, living full lives, with families – and suddenly they are in critical condition fighting for their lives or worse.

So quite frankly I don’t want to hear anymore about “statistics”. I don’t want to hear anymore about how the virus primarily kills people over 60. I don’t want to be told anymore that the percentages do or don’t equal those of the flu. I do not want to hear anymore about how one country’s stats do or not compare with another. All that information is too sterile.

I want to focus on people. Real people like you and me. This killer is real. It is personal. It is killing good, healthy , vibrant people. People who should not be dying. We need to understand that. We need to be there for these people, for their families.

In my heart and mind I know that He has a plan. As I frequently tell my kids, the Almighty does not have to tell us what His plan is. What we need to do is pray; pray for all the people who have been stricken with this terrible disease, pray for families that are suffering, pray for those who who have lost their jobs or been forced to close their businesses. Pray for mankind.

And then we need to act. We need reach out. We need to help. There are plenty of people out there who need our help.

Coming Together

Day 10. Yesterday I ventured out of my house for a few hours for the first time in 10 days. I went to my office to pick up work related materials and then stopped at a Giant supermarket to pick up a few items. The supermarket was full of people; shoppers, delivery men, workers. Some wearing gloves, some wearing masks, some trying to observe distance, many just walking around like nothing unusual was going on. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. At home I feel “safe”. There I felt vulnerable.

I recall vividly the mood of the country after 9/11. There was such a spirit of unity. We were all in it together. whatever it took. The attack was an attack against all of us. The loss of life touched us all – whether we knew any of the victims or not. Everyone was flying an American a flag, some on their house, some on their car, fireman on their engines, and some pinned to the lapel on their coat or jacket. The sense of unity was palpable. It was real. We had all been attacked and we were joined together in response and recovery.

At this very moment we are all being attacked again – but this time it is by an invisible deadly enemy. And the only way to defeat it is by a unified response. None of us can stop the spread of Covid-19 alone. It can only be stopped when we all pull together and do what we are told by our medical professionals will work.

So why is it so difficult for everyone to come together and do what needs to be done?

Day 9. As a person of faith living through this world pandemic; a scourge that has killed thousands, infected thousands more, and thrown the world into havoc, I can’t help but ask myself, “What is G-d trying to tell us?” Far be it from me to authoritatively answer that question. But clearly He is sending us a message.

A few days ago, I called a chasidic friend of mine in metropolitan New York to see how he and his family were doing. As we spoke he gave me the following insight which he had heard from the Klausenberg Grand Rabbi, the leader of his chasidic sect. He said, our responsibility during this time is not to try and figure out what G-d is doing and why He is doing it, but rather to look introspectively within ourselves and ask oneself, “How can I improve?” “What can I do to become a better person?” And, he continued, if each one us would genuinely do so and take concrete action to become a better person, than we will have done our part to remove the Covid-19 scourge from the earth.

Our society today is filled with discord and hate. Charlottsville. Pittsburg. Poway. Jersey City. Parkland. Rising antisemitism. Skinheads. Nazis. A world full of hate. A world where trident and extreme politics and politicians has become the norm. Hatred and discord permeate our society and have seeped into the fabric of our daily life.

Maybe, just maybe, as we are all relegated to social distancing, working from home, and drastically limiting our contact with one another – just maybe, we should see this as an opportunity – an opportunity for introspection; an opportunity to change for the better. An opportunity for each of us to do our individual part to improve ourselves and our role in society. And maybe, just maybe if we do so, if we rise to the occasion, when we emerge from this pandemic we will enter a world that is less hateful, more caring, a world in which we are all more respectful of each other and our differences.

Corona hits close to home

Day 8. Over the last two days the virus has struck in my community. One young congregational rabbi is in the hospital and a husband and wife with a large family have all of the symptoms and are isolated in rooms in their home. The virus is real and its potential for harm is real. While we pray that the spread of the virus is contained here and everywhere, my expectation is that it will get worse before it gets better. Indeed, the day began with the Surgeon General announcing precisely that – the situation in the US is about to get worse.

Fundamental to my beliefs is the age old teaching of the rabbis that every individual life is a world in and of itself and that one who save’s another’s life is akin to saving an entire world. Thus, I found it very difficult to listen to President Trump at the end of the day exhibiting his impatience and frustration with the social distancing advice and requirements which his medical experts have been advising and recommending as the only means to stem the tide of this highly infectious virus which has already killed thousands world wide. Trump appeared to be trying to convince us that he has discovered a malaria drug that will cure virus, that the death rate will “only” be 1% instead of 2-4%, and that the deaths will be mostly in the older segments of the population. He clearly was laying the groundwork for deciding that there is no good reason to continue on the present “social distancing” path in an effort flatten the curve of infection and that it is time to restart the economy. Indeed, the President is not alone. This Saturday The Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed that advocated the same idea – “The cure is worse that the disease”.

Granted this is not simple. There are no good choices. No matter what path our leaders take there will be a high cost for all of us to pay. I do not envy them. Clearly, the economic impact will hurt the poorer and lower income echelons of our society more than others. And something needs to be done to soften this economic blow. But what struck me was how cavalier the naysayers are when it comes to, literally, sacrificing other people’s lives and choosing economics and money over lives. If that is the way the US goes, aside from the question of whether it will “work “, what does it say about our society and our values?