© Judah Lifschitz 2020
Tonight, as I light the Chanukah menorah for the first of eight nights, the eternal message of the Chanukah holiday will be especially meaningful and powerful.
Unlike other holidays on the Jewish calendar which are biblically ordained, Chanukah is a rabbinically established holiday which commemorates the victory, against all odds, of the Maccabees against their Greek rulers and oppressors. After their victory, the Macabees returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and sanctified it anew after it had been defiled by the Greeks. When they went to light the menorah, they could find but one flask of pure undefiled oil sufficient for only one day. Miraculously, that one flask of oil lasted a full eight days until pure oil was able to be processed. We light the Chanukah menorah each night of the eight days of Chanukah to commemorate this miracle.
Our tradition teaches us, however, that there is a much deeper meaning to the holiday and the lighting of the menorah. Biblically the Jewish holidays are either in the fall or in the spring. Winter, the season of short days and long nights, frigid temperatures, snow and ice has no biblical holidays, no times for joyous celebration, no bright spots. It is long, dark, cold, and dreary time of the year. That is until the rabbis, divinely inspired, established the eternal holiday of Chanukah; the holiday that lightens the darkness , warms our hearts, and raises our spirits.
Winter is a metaphor for the difficult periods in one’s life when all seems dark and hopeless, when despair is plentiful and hope is scarce. Chanukah reminds us that even in one’s darkest and most difficult moments there is light, there is hope, there is a bright future which lies ahead.
How appropriate this message is in this year of the pandemic. And how uplifting it should be for us all that literally on the eve of Chanukah the first Covid-19 vaccinations are beginning to be distributed and administered. A heavenly voice is speaking to us. “There is hope. There will be an end to the pandemic. There is light at the end of the Covid-19 winter.”
Happy Chanukah to all.
As winter is upon us please heed this message from our neighbors. Wear a mask.
The pandemic has changed much in the world but it can not ruin the beauty of Fall colors.
© Judah Lifschitz 2020
After posting my last blog post I received several comments questioning my analogy of the little train that could with Covid-19. These comments revealed that I did not adequately explain my thinking, i.e. that the little invisible Corona virus microbe will have a long lasting impact far beyond world health and the economy. It will impact world governance and thus geopolitical policy and events for years to come.
Apropos this thought consider the following article from today’s Washington Post.
Unlike previous lethal viruses, this one will define a major election
For at least the fourth time in a century, voters will go to the polls amid a lethal viral outbreak, but unlike previous elections held in the shadow of flu, polio and HIV, the novel coronavirus — and the destruction it has unleashed — will almost certainly define the 2020 contest.
From a single case in Snohomish County, Wash., on Jan. 21, the coronavirus has mushroomed in less than 10 months to a widening scourge currently infecting nearly 100,000 Americans a day. As Election Day voters prepared to cast their ballots Tuesday, the medical examiner in El Paso was adding a fourth refrigerated “mobile morgue,” and hospitals in northwest Wisconsin were canceling elective procedures to save beds for patients with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Two-thirds of the public now personally know one of the 9.25 million people who have tested positive for the virus — a new high — polls show. And even more think the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
“We’ve never had an Election Day in the fog of a pandemic like this,” said Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. “It will, perhaps, be called the pandemic election.”
How those factors affect turnout and results won’t be known until evening, and perhaps not for days or weeks to come. But it is already clear that Tuesday will mark a singular modern-day confluence of a U.S. public health crisis and the election of a president.
“To my knowledge, it’s unprecedented,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and co-author of “The Epidemic That Never Was,” an analysis of the federal swine flu immunization program in 1976. “Which means one has no basis for comparison.”
In the 1920 presidential election, voters faced a waning threat from the pandemic flu, there was no flu vaccine, and public health was seen as a local issue that did not merit intervention by the president. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not exist. Even during the 1918 off-year election, the pathogen that would eventually kill 675,000 Americans was not a major subject of debate, Markel said.
Periodic flu outbreaks during ensuing decades did not move the political needle much either.
The worst polio outbreaks, in the 1940s and early 1950s, tended to wane as the weather cooled, and the virus was eventually quelled by successful testing of a vaccine in 1955.
Even HIV, which drove activists into the streets, had little impact at election time, at least during the epidemic’s first decade. President Ronald Reagan, who took office in 1981, the year the virus was first recognized, famously would not utter the word “AIDS” until 1987.
Tuesday will be much different.
“I have no idea what it will do in terms of turnout,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“What I’m hoping is that people are not afraid to vote in person if they haven’t voted yet,” he added. “Because I do think it’s possible to vote in a way where you can control your risk so that it wouldn’t be too different from going to the grocery store or going to the pharmacy.”
That includes voting in the late morning or early afternoon, when crowds are smaller, wearing a mask, maintaining distance, and bringing your own pen and hand sanitizer, he said.
Markel, who is also a physician, disagreed. He thinks Election Day turnout will be down, particularly among the elderly, who may conclude that it is too risky to appear at polling places if they haven’t taken advantage of early voting. He said he is unsure how many voters will stay home.
Of course, the virus is widely considered responsible for the record-setting pace of early voting, both by mail and in person, that has preceded Tuesday’s more traditional balloting. Late Monday, the number of early votes cast reached more than 98 million, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.
“One of the ways we can counter feelings of anxiety is to control the things we can control,” said Joshua A. Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “I think that’s why you’re seeing so much early voting, for example — people are anxious to make sure that the future they’d like to see is going to happen.
“I voted early and it did make me feel a little bit better that I had done my part, the part I can do to forge the future that I want to see.”
The U.S. seven-day average of coronavirus infections, considered the best measure of prevalence, reached 81,740 on Sunday, and nine states set records for hospitalizations, according to data tracked by The Post. More than 230,000 people have died of covid-19.
In Europe and throughout the United States, new restrictions were being imposed. In Maine, where daily counts virtually doubled, Gov. Janet Mills (D) reversed plans to allow bars to reopen Monday and reduced the maximum size of indoor gatherings from 100 people to 50.
“If we do not control this outbreak, we may never get this evil genie back in the bottle,” she said Sunday.
Illinois, which averaged a record 6,367 new cases each day over the past week, expanded restrictions to make a ban on indoor dining effective statewide.
Massachusetts, where the seven-day average of new cases stood at nearly 1,300 on Sunday compared with 689 two weeks earlier, issued a new advisory directing residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for necessary activities. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) emphasized that he was not shutting down the economy or schools.
“I think what we’re trying to say here is by 10 o’clock, people should use their heads and be with the people they live with instead of continuing to perpetuate this constant churning of folks,” Baker said.
On Saturday, five Mayo Clinic hospitals in hard-hit northwest Wisconsin began postponing elective procedures such as colonoscopies and routine physicals to free beds for the rapidly increasing number of covid-19 patients in the area around Eau Claire. The move probably will last throughout November, said Richard A. Helmers, regional vice president for Mayo’s health system there.
“Simply put, if we cannot slow the rate of infection, we risk overwhelming our health-care system,” Jason Craig, regional chair of administration for Mayo, said at a media briefing Friday. About 230 staff members are off work because they have contracted or been exposed to the coronavirus in the community, he said.
Several European nations reimposed nationwide shutdowns — most recently Germany, where restaurants, bars and recreational facilities closed Monday in a modified, less strict version of spring’s lockdown.
But in parts of the United States, Halloween weekend partying was not halted. In Utah, authorities said several thousand people attended a large, rave-like gathering with multiple DJs on Saturday night that was discovered when a woman was knocked unconscious while crowd-surfing, according to KSL.com. Police also shut down numerous parties in the college town of Boulder, Colo., over the weekend, Denver’s KMGH-TV reported.
On Tuesday, less than a year after the virus emerged from Wuhan, China, to circle the globe, a jittery electorate will settle the question of who will lead the next phase of the U.S. pandemic.
“With all that is going on right now, many of us are feeling quite anxious about our current situation, and our future,” Gordon said. “That is not surprising given the degree of uncertainty there is about the pandemic, about the election, about the controversies over race in America, about climate — about all these things. Uncertainties breed anxiety.”
Do you remember the book we used to read to our children about the little train that could? It dawned on me recently that Covid-19 is “That Little Virus That Could“.
What do I mean? Consider the following. For the last seven months the world has been preoccupied with the immediate effects and direct impacts of this pandemic. The list includes impacts on world heath and economies, education, social interaction, work habits, travel, sports, mental health, domestic abuse, to name a few. Surely, the list of the direct impacts is robust. But what about the pandemic’s implications for the world from a long term political and geopolitical perspective?
We need only look at the United States and the current presidential election to see that the pandemic is a very significant factor, maybe even the single most important factor, in deciding the election. The campaigns, each in their own way, have made the pandemic a significant election issue. The Biden campaign points to Trump’s handling of the pandemic as a bell weather issue which they insist demands Trump’s defeat. The Trump campaign argues that Trump is responsible for the pre-pandemic robust economy and only he can restore the economy to its pre-Covid-19 levels. Whomever the electorate chooses, the long term implications for both domestic and international policy are enormous for the two candidates posses starkly different views and advocate polar policies. This same phenomena is repeating itself in countries all across the globe.
Who would have ever though that the Corona virus would be The Little Virus That Could change the trajectory of the world?
A month ago I launched a web page called Tefilah MeHalev – Prayer From the Heart www.yomtovnusach.com. It all began with an inquiry by my rabbi one morning after services whether I would be willing to “make a tape” of cantorial selections from the High Holiday liturgy. (I am a cantor on the High Holidays) which he would be able to share with individuals who, because of Covid-19, would not be attending services on the holidays. In fulfilling his request I hired a professional producer to help me record several music tracks which I then posted on the web page which I created for this purpose. Little did I know that this simple web page would have such an enormous impact on so many people.
When the site went live two rabbis sent out emails and posted announcements on social media to inform their constituencies. Literally, immediately, the site began to receive hundreds of hits. On the first day more than 450 people visited the site. People from all over the United States, Israel, Europe, Canada and Mexico went to the site and listened to the musical tracks. And then I began receiving chat messages and emails thanking me for creating the site and recording the selections. The messages and emails poignantly revealed the pain that many individuals are experiencing as a result of the drastic impact that the pandemic has wrought to their daily lives and routines. Many of the messages I received expressed the deep longing for a return to “normal” and to the synagogue from which the pandemic has banished them for the last seven months. In the following days and weeks more and more people accessed the site and I continued to be the recipient of emotional thank yours.
It was overwhelming.
Overwhelming because it revealed the enormous need of so many who have been and continue to be denied important aspects of their lives. Overwhelming because it exposed the deep despair being experienced by so many. Overwhelming in the breadth, depth and intensity of the hurt felt by so many.
It was instructive.
Instructive because it demonstrated forcefully that – even in the midst of this pandemic, a pandemic that has limited normal interactions, that requires social distancing; that has drastically changed daily life – that even under such extreme circumstances – we can connect with each other in a real, meaningful and impactful manner. We can support and ease the pain of others – many others. We can help people whom we have never even met.
The great chassidic rabbi, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, known as the Piaseczno Rebbe, who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, taught he following: “The greatest thing a person can do in this world is to help someone else”.
How true this is especially today.
Rosh Hashana this year 5781
Rosh Hashana next Year 5782
© Judah Lifschitz 2020
Tonight we will usher in the Jewish New Year of 5781. Ours is not a “celebration” in the classic sense of joyful partying and merry making. Rather, Rosh Hashanah represents the beginning of a ten day period of personal and communal introspection and repentance. It is when the Almighty judges every individual and mankind as a whole. As we say in our liturgy, “On Rosh Hannah judgment will be recorded and on Yom Kippur it will be sealed. Who will live? And who will die?…Who by storm and who by plague?”
These words are always chilling and even more so in this year of the pandemic. But our prayers also convey hope; hope for a brighter future; for a year in which we are “inscribed in the book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity”.
May it be the will of the Almighty that we are inscribed in the Book of Life and that we are blessed with a year of good health, happiness and prosperity. Amen.