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?

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.