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No Rush to Return to "Normal"

04/26/2020 03:53:46 PM


Rabbi Samuel Gordon

These are truly challenging times. Due to the current pandemic, we have had to shelter at home, avoid human contact with those outside our immediate family, and close our schools, factories, restaurants, and theaters. We truly miss our former freedoms when we could socialize, attend sports events, or gather together in worship. We are living through a global health crisis. The worldwide economy is in a free fall. People are rightly concerned about their own futures and the prospects for their families. We are facing a crisis that is a danger to our values and our spirit.

Yet here is what we need to remember, the Covid-19 pandemic will eventually end. We hope that soon we will be able to return to our “normal” way of life. Once more, we will go to restaurants, movies, and concerts. We will finally be able to visit with family and friends and travel freely.

But let us not be in too much of a rush to return back to “normal.” Let us pause and deeply reflect on the truths exposed by this crisis. This great global pandemic should change us. There are profound lessons we need to absorb before we rush to place this time behind us. This time of plague should teach us profound truths about our society and our times.

The plague of Covid-19 should demonstrate that a pandemic is not limited by borders, and a nation cannot be fully secure behind walls, no matter their height. One part of the world cannot turn a blind eye to another. We share one earth, and threats to the environment and climate of one region affect one’s own society. A person sneezing in Wuhan, China can result in a deadly virus in Chicago. Borders and walls will not protect us from global disease or environmental disaster, and we cannot dig deep enough moats to stop the quest for freedom of those fleeing oppression. Disease, poverty, population growth, and hunger are challenges for rich and poor nations alike, thus knowledge must be shared among the world community.

It is also clear that this pandemic is not affecting us equally and without discrimination. The statistics show that over 70% of the Coronavirus deaths in Chicago have occurred among African Americans. Covid-19 is exposing the failures of our society that we have too long overlooked. We are forced to confront the great American socioeconomic divide.  This pandemic has made real the deep disparities that exist in our nation.

Far too many Americans lack basic health insurance or job security. For too many, job loss results in the loss of health insurance. While we are urged to shelter at home and create social distance from each other, the truth is, only some of us can work at home or fulfill our duties remotely. One cannot wait tables from home or earn tips from remote locations. Others have no option but to work in close contact with others and go to their jobs by public transportation. So many of our health workers especially are people of color or ethnic minorities. Undocumented workers are among those who serve those who need home care. They are all at additional risk.

There is also a vast divide between those who live in expansive homes and those families confined to one or two rooms.  Far too many people are in our jails and prisons, often simply because they cannot afford bail. The jails are hotbeds for the virus, spread because of the close quarters and inability to socially distance oneself. The homeless, whether in shelters or on the streets, are too often unprotected from this virus.

What should happen before we return to “normal?” How shall we confront the inequality and disparity that is, itself, a plague for our nation? Will we remember that we did not suffer equally? Will we reject those who doubt science and expertise? Will the social safety net once assured by the government be a valued commitment of our nation? When this is all over, will we remember what this epidemic has revealed about our society and our values? On a more personal level, have we learned things about ourselves during these weeks of forced isolation? Have our priorities changed? Will we be different?

We will have failed our own future if we merely return to past habits. While we look forward to the day when we will open our doors and emerge into society, we must not close our eyes to the realities of the world outside. We cannot wait to return to “normal.” We desperately long to feel free and safe, but if we are blind to the inequities of our nation and world, we will have learned nothing. It is now up to us to battle the plagues of inequality, injustice, disparity, xenophobia, and poverty that remain the afflictions that threaten our world. If not now, when?


Rabbi Samuel N Gordon

Congregation Sukkat Shalom

1001 Central Ave

Wilmette, IL 60091

Wed, November 29 2023 16 Kislev 5784