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Open or Closed

04/23/2020 01:51:35 PM

Apr23

Some of us were surprised to hear of plans to re-open certain Georgia businesses as early as today.  This week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, is oddly appropriate for our current situation. One of its primary themes is a disease called “Tzaraat.” One who has suspicious symptoms is inspected by the priest and isolated for a period of time (up to two weeks) to see if the disease progresses. Sounds familiar! Leviticus 13:3 offers an important lesson for us. The priest is first called upon to see the symptoms - the sore or scar or scab. After the inspection, though, when the priest makes the determination as to the person’s status, it says “v’ra’ahu hakohen.” The priest must see HIM. The priest must be able to see not just the disease, but the whole person.

 

The same is true today as we think about the different segments of our society and how they are reacting to re-opening. We can debate the motivations and wisdom of the re-opening.  Our medical advisors are deeply concerned that it will lead to increased deaths and only prolong the amount of time it takes to re-open safely.  However, I can also understand that that it will impact each of us differently.

Some of us have what is truly the luxury of being able to work remotely. Others may do essential work, but are hopefully offered the resources to protect themselves and their families. I have also spoken to those who have lost employment, and either are seeking help or are in a position to manage for the time being. And then there are still others who feel the pressure of making a choice whether to prioritize their lives or their livelihoods.  Quite literally, they  ask themselves  “your money or your life?” Our Jewish tradition says that life, and risk to life, must be prioritized above all else, and I can’t compromise on that value.  That does not stop me from trying to see each person as a whole and appreciating how challenging that choice must be for them.

 

Along with bowling alleys and tattoo parlors, houses of worship were given permission to re-open for in-person activities. Despite the announcement, our congregation will not be making any change to its operations at the current time.

It is not because we do not want to re-open our doors. Many in our community see the congregation as a truly essential part of their lives. We want to be able to be together in person to pray, learn and celebrate, to offer handshakes and hugs, to touch the Torah scroll and use our building as a base to help others in need. Personally, I would rather move on from being the rabbi of “B’nai Basement” and fighting off Zoom hackers (we have changed our Zoom sanctuary password this week – please PM me if you need it). And yet, the value of Pikuach Nefesh, protecting human life, must motivate our decisions. The continued health and safety of our community overrides all else.

In each decision, our staff and board are guided by a medical advisory team that includes a CDC Epidemiologist, a professor of Infectious Disease, and a physician/MPH whose professional role is guiding pandemic response for a medical consulting firm. This team has pointed us to milestones that would enable our congregation’s safe return to in-person activity, one step at a time. We do not know how soon those milestones will be met, but we have already begun planning so that we will be ready to move thoughtfully as the situation develops and changes.

In the meanwhile, I am proud of how our community has adapted to our new and challenging circumstances. Our staff and lay leaders have been creative in envisioning ways to engage every age and stage in spiritual, social and educational activities. If you have thoughts or suggestions of how we can bring more meaning and connection, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Meanwhile, the members of our community have been generous in offering assistance to those who might be at risk or struggling. If you have a need, or you see a need that you want to help meet, please don’t be shy about sharing. Together, we are stronger.

Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780