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?

Rise to the occasion?

Day 7. Yesterday we decided that our law firm would shift to a fully remote operation with only our executive director permitted to enter our building and work there. Our shift came as a result of the increased infection rate and our dismay at the lack of concern exhibited by many of our fellow Americans and their refusal to abide by the guidelines of the CDC and local governments. Thus, we felt compelled to require all our attorneys and staff to remain, where they can hopefully be safe and healthy home and where they are all able to function remotely and service our clients “without missing a beat”.

Today’s  Washington Post  asked the following question:

As the novel coronavirus spreads through communities across the country, it poses a critical question: Can America’s people, institutions and government collectively rise to the occasion to defeat a once-in-a-generation crisis?

This has been a concern of mine as I have watched the federal government, Executive and Legislative branches, struggle to lead, organize and unite in the best interests of all Americans. And this has been a growing concern of mine as I have watched individual Americans act as if this is not a matter of life and death – for them, their families, and their neighbors. Each one of us has a moral responsibility to act to save not only our own lives but those around us. That will require sacrifice. And we need to do this now before the rate of infection overtakes our ability to manage the crisis.

A simple example tells it all. Just yesterday I learned of an individual in my community who has symptoms of the coronavirus. He participates in a nightly study group and I immediately advised members of the group that someone in the group has symptoms and that we all needed to self quarantine through Tuesday night (the last time this individual attended the study group was Tuesday March 10). I received a call yesterday evening from one member of the study group seeking information. I explained what I knew and told him that he needed to self quarantine for the next two days. His response “It is not going to happen”.

Need I say more? The Washington Post is right.

Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms

Day 6. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and I would normally go down to the Tidal Basin early one morning on my way to the office to photograph them. One year one of my photos was even chosen for display as part of Photo DC’s cherry blossom exhibition!

But not this year for what should be, to everyone, “all the obvious reasons”. But much to my shock and dismay the Washington Post reported that many people went to view the Cherry Blossoms yesterday notwithstanding all the instructions not to. Just take a look at this picture from today’s Post.

Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

What are people thinking? Don’t people get it? We could become another Italy! If we all pull together we can save lives and end this crisis sooner rather than later. How many people are needlessly being infected because people just do not takes this seriously? This is life and death. Literally!

So instead of going down to the Tidal Basin I went into my backyard where the trees are flowering. It dawned on me that they represent a perfect metaphor which can give us strength. After a long dark winter, spring arrives with flowering beauty and grace. And so it will be with the these difficult times. They too shall pass and when this crisis ends, life as we knew it before will return with all its beauty and joy. For now, we all need to be smart, safe and unselfish. Enjoy my photos from my backyard.

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

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A final bit of humor for the start of your weekend

A mess of boxes

Day 4 of working in the SLS vitrual law firm. My home office is slowly becoming a mess of boxes and files on the floor and I am now helping clients deal with the initial flood of coronavirus notices from tenants and contractors etc. But today I want to reflect on more personal thoughts. It was last Friday that it hit me that I, my family, my law firm, my community were in the beginnings of a radical change to our lives. Last Friday started with discussions among my partners in which we recognized that we needed to immediately plan for transitioning our law firm from the traditional central office based law firm to a virtual one. That discussion and the intense planing effort which it set in motion was a jolt to my reality but did not compare to what I would confront later in the day. Fridays are always shorter work days for me as I leave at 3 pm to prepare for the Sabbath. Ever since I was in high school, when I did not have school on Fridays (but had school on Sundays), Fridays have been the day on which I slowly transition from the world of work to twenty-fours focused on the spiritual, prayer, and family. Last Friday afternoon, as I was getting ready to begin the Sabbath with a prayer service at my synagogue, I was abruptly informed that due to the coronavirus and the Governor’s order limiting public assembly to no more than 250 people ,that every synagogue in our community (of which there are many) was cancelling all prayer services, classes and programs for the foreseeable future. Unprecedented! I can not adequately describe the impact of this announcement. The synagogues and other religious institutions are the core that unite the hundreds of families that live in our close knit community. Beginning on Friday evening and continuing all day Saturday the streets are full, from morning to night, with people going to and from their synagogues, families visiting friends, kids playing in the parks ,and teenagers socializing with one another. But last Saturday the streets were literally empty. Everyone was hunkered down in their homes. It was Snowmgeddon without the snow. It was then that the impact of the pandemic came into crystal clear focus for me. This pandemic that came out of nowhere was radically changing my life – everyone’s life – and the challenge was to adapt to the radical changes. Over the last few days as I have been confronting all the many changes, I have resolved that I will not let this pandemic change who I am and who I strive to be as a person and as a professional. So my focus has been helping others – colleagues, staff clients, friends,and community members to get through this “thing” secure in the knowledge that we are all in this together. This is how I am trying to keep my “sanity” as we move closer to the day when we will be ordered to “shelter in place”.

Shabbat Shalom. May the Sabbath Queen enter in peace and bring gladness and good cheer to all.

Shabbat Shalom

Day 3 of intense social distancing and working remotely. I am trying to keep my regular schedule. Up at 4:30-4:45, shower at 6, daven (pray) at 6:55, work beginning at 8 or 8:30. I am making a point of dressing as I would for work (sans the tie – sorry Steve!) and working my regular hours. I miss the drives to and from work and more importantly the personal face to face interaction with my friends and colleagues.; I am maximizing my use of video conferencing to maintain personal contact within the requirements of “social distancing”.

While so far during this first full week of enforced social distancing most everyone I have interacted with is “with the program” there remain large numbers who are either coronavirus ignorant or worse – coronavirus deniers. Hopefully, very quickly, the ignorant will become better educated about the enormous task incumbent on us all of slowing down this deadly virus and conduct themselves accordingly.

The deniers, however, are of much greater concern to me. Whether it is because they foolishly believe (contrary to all the obvious evidence) that the coronavirus is just like the flu, or that G-d will protect those who do His will and therefore life can proceed as usual, or that those under 30 are unaffected and will not get sick, their behavior is risking thousands around them; risking not only that they contract the virus but that older and weaker individuals could die. Where have we, as a society, gone wrong when thousands of college age students can celebrate spring break on the beaches of Florida with not only no concern for their own health but no concern for the spread of the virus in their communities? How is it possible that hundreds of people attend weddings and celebrate as though everything is normal?

This pandemic is a challenge to mankind. Whether we like it or not we are all in this together.We can each rise to the occasion and act with concern for our neighbors – whomever they are and wherever they may be. Or we can be selfish and watch as the world pays an enormous price. Social distancing and remote interaction is no fun but it can be a tool to make us better people if we rise to the occasion and act to protect those around us and think a bit less about ourselves.

Staying Connected

Yesterday SLS implemented our “virtual law firm”. The first phase allows a controlled limited number of lawyers and staff to work in our building while everyone else works remotely. It got off to a great start. Everyone was busy. Clients were also for the most part working remotely and seemed to expect that we would shift to remote operations and were appreciative of our “not missing a beat”. We also began to receive some pandemic related questions regarding project delays and business interruption claims and insurance coverage issue. I made a short video for clients announcing our shift to remote operations as I do not want to lose the personal connection with the many individuals with whom we work. On the home front Marilyn is also working at home and having some difficulty transitioning to a home office. Given what I expect to be a long duration for this new work environment I think we will need to quickly set up and equip a really functional home office for her.

Our elementary school grandchildren have all begun on line classes to some extent though this will surely be a long haul for families with children at home. Today my ninety year old in laws are driving back to NY from Florida (yes that is what i said!). The advice we received was that since they were unwilling to remain in Florida, driving was safer than flying. Another example of how the world has been turned on its head! As we take more and more steps to implement stricter and stricter “social distancing” Caring and loving are taking on a new definition. I have always understood them to mean bringing those you love closer; drawing them nearer in both a physical and emotional sense. Today during this pandemic they mean the opposite. The more we care for others, the more we love our families, the more we need to maintain distance between us. Perhaps this is an irony. Or perhaps this is a manifestation of the essence of caring and loving – doing whatever is necessary to protect those you love.

I began focusing on the Coronavirus as I traveled to Houston on March 2 to teach an industry course. During my stay in Houston it became clear to me just how difficult, no impossible, it would be to keep myself healthy while conducting my daily life “as usual”. How effective could all those hand sanitzers strategically placed in the public spaces really be? Not much, I thought – as I regularly used them. I came back from Houston and flew to fly to St. Louis with my wife for a family event. Over that weekend and upon my return my learning curve increased but not to the point that I really understood what needed to be done by society as a whole to get through this pandemic. Other than a doctor friend who works at NIH I could not find reliable explanatory information. Based on his advice I began cancelling all my upcoming travel. I informed a friend that I would not be attending his son’s wedding in New Jersey. I worked on canceling the many out of town depositions I was scheduled to take over the next few weeks. Initially my efforts were met with skepticism. “It is no worse than the flu” was a familiar response. One lawyer objected to the cancellation of the deposition because there were no domestic travel restrictions. Others thought I was an alarmist. President Trump was saying that the virus was not that big of a deal and that it was “under control”.

Really? How could that be? Why were thousands being infected the world over? Why was Italy in a lock down? Why was Israel self quarantining thousands? It was not until I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the Israeli public that I gained detailed relevant information regarding the virus, its behavior and risks and the public health strategy that must be implemented if we are to survive this pandemic. The virus infects in geometric progressions. The number of people infected will double every 6 days. The health care systems will be overwhelmed if the rate of infection is not slowed down. The only means of slowing down this virus, for which a vaccine does not presently exist, is by practicing personal hygiene and limiting social interaction. This requires a radical change in everyone’s personal habits and behavior. Even though large percentages of the population are likely to be infected, the rate of infection and infection curve must be flattened and the virus slowed so that hospitals are not overwhelmed. In a week’s time the situation in the United States has changed dramatically for the worse. The number of infected individuals is multiplying daily and the number of deaths is increasing. Testing is insufficient. States have begun to impose “radical” restrictions to daily life to try and contain the virus. And slowly we are all acknowledging and accepting the raw fact that we are all in uncharted territory.