Tag : pandemic

July 27, 2020 by

Say Goodnight, Especially in Quarantine

Psychic containment means checking on others who may not have adequate resources or family support. When you check on your elderly neighbor down the hall, it is helpful to her, and it also reminds you that you are not alone. Psychological containment means daily video or phone calls with friends and family. This is particularly important near the end of the day, when the silence and darkness of Covid’s viral overload become more real without the distractions of work and family. Connecting with others before bedtime should become a ritual—even similar to lullabies and the stories we read to children at night to soothe them to sleep. Just as children need to hear the comfort of another’s voice to calm their minds at night, so will all of us

. …Our need for connection to each other, laid down in infancy, is the most basic and enduring part of our existence.

ALEXIS TOMARKEN, “Even in Isolation, Don’t Forget to Say Goodnight.” The Lilith Blog

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July 27, 2020 by

The Ethos of Rural Life Is Everyone’s Ethos Now

RABBI RACHEL ISAACS serves as the spiritual leader of Beth Israel Congregation in Waterville, Maine and directs the Center for Small Town Jewish Life at Colby College.

A few weeks ago I went out to buy my annual supply of seed potatoes. I got into our family’s small Subaru sedan and drove slightly south of Augusta—Maine’s state capital— to a local agricultural superstore. I put on my mask as I entered, passing two or three people along the way. Digging through the large bins, I chose blue, Yukon Gold, and Kennebec potatoes, placed them in the complimentary paper bags, and brought them back home to prepare for this year’s planting. As a 37-year-old rabbi raised in the New York metropolitan area, I never imagined that I would feed my family with crops I planted, tended, and harvested myself. Now, having spent the past 10 years in Maine, I am thankful that I have the resources and the practical skills to feed my family for months without shopping at a supermarket.

All of a sudden, after years of feeling deeply peripheral, we’ve discovered that the ethos that has sustained our ecosystems—Jewish, agricultural, and social—here in Maine has become crucial to weathering this storm. Our brand of Jewish leadership and life is no longer an outlier; it represents a resilient species of Jewish life that is not easily discouraged.

Where does the greater Jewish community go from here? It may look a lot more like our community in Maine: stripped down, collaborative, scrappy, self-sufficient, capable, and pliant. Our rabbis have already hosted one online statewide Shabbat service with nine clergy and close to 500 participants attending, and our second statewide service is poised to be larger. We are used to pulling together and pooling our resources to make Jewish life work. It’s been a long time since any of our small synagogues could really do much on a large scale alone. It has been decades since any of us could offer regularly catered meals, or budget swag into our conferences and events. Fewer and fewer of our congregants can afford dues, yet our synagogues have been growing in size and strength consistently over the past decade. Maine rabbis know what it is to be approached regularly for financial help from those we serve. Our clergy discretionary accounts are more often used to cover college application fees, medical expenses and utility bills than scholarships for trips abroad or fundraisers for causes in far-away places.

In the years to come, more of us will be growing our own potatoes. We will probably get closer to the chickens who lay our eggs. We will feel a sense that we have sacrificed something truly precious when we crack an egg for our challah or peel a potato for our Hanukkah latkes.

You will be visiting us in Maine soon, if not physically, then as observers of, and then participants in, our way of life. Together we will return to a potent awareness of the fragility of our existence, an awareness that would be deeply familiar to many of our ancestors. Our lives will feel dirty, and real, and precious.

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July 27, 2020 by

Link Food Supplies to Public Health

MARION NESTLE is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health, emerita, at New York University, and the author of the forthcoming Let’s Ask Marion: What You Need to Know about the Politics of Food, Nutrition, and Health. 

The problems in food systems are particularly evident in meatpacking plants as viral epicenters, staffed by low wage, largely minority and immigrant employees often without sick leave or health care benefits, now considered essential and forced to work by government invocation of the Defense Emergency Act. Problems are also evident in farmers’ destruction of animals, eggs, milk, potatoes, and other vegetables, while food banks are overwhelmed by demands for food that they cannot meet. These situations call for nothing less than major reform of our food system to make it more resilient and sustainable. This means decentralization, regionalization, and localization of food production, and implementation of policies to link food production to public health and environmental protection.

What kinds of policies? How about a universal basic income, universal school meals, and federal subsidies for local and regional small- and mid-size producers, and fair wages (with benefits) for all those essential workers. Our country has plenty of money to do this; what’s lacking is political will. How do we get political will? Advocate! Vote! Start now!

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July 27, 2020 by

I Want Us to View Art Through a New Lens

JILLIAN STEINHAUER is a journalist whose writing about art appears in the New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation, and other publications

Before Covid-19, as an art journalist and critic in New York City I went several days a week to galleries and museums (and sometimes art fairs, which are essentially upscale, anodyne trade shows). Now, as I write this, it has been roughly two months since I set foot in any of those places. And one of the most surprising things is that I don’t miss them as much as I thought I would.

To be clear, I miss art. I miss looking at pretty paintings, making my way through inscrutable installations, and sticking with a piece of video art past the point of boredom. I miss being moved and confronted and stretched by artists and their work. But I don’t really miss the apparatus that surrounds it. I don’t miss the hypercapitalist, over-professionalized, white supremacist, and ableist system on which the mainstream art world runs—a system that in recent years has been increasingly challenged by its own workforce. Mave have unionized and organized protests over labor disputes as well as funding sources at New York City museums.

It’s hard to imagine this pandemic being over, let alone what any single part of life in the U.S. might look like then. But when I think about what I want the experience of viewing art to be post-pandemic, the answer is something more honest and accessible. Something pluralistic, not monolithic. Something that prioritizes people over profits and workers over donors. Something filled with experiments and flexibility, allowing room for mistakes.

Art, after all, is about creativity. It’s about seeing the world anew. It isn’t beholden to what is because it has the capacity to imagine what could be. What if institutions were that way too? What if the art industry valued creativity more than—or even as much as—money? What better community could we make?

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July 27, 2020 by

White Allies Need to Step Up. Now.

YAVILAH MCCOY is the CEO of DIMENSIONS Inc. in Boston. She has spent the past 20 years working in multi-faith communities and partnering with the Jewish community to engage issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

When the pandemic hit and our national shut-down began, I lost my previously healthy mother to “undetermined” causes in a rural North Carolina hospital. In late March, I flew on an empty plane to arrange a Jewish burial for her within 24 hours. I arrived in an Orthodox Jewish community that was spinning with the impact of rising death tolls, all while being prohibited from observing the usual Jewish rituals for burial. I also arrived at a hospital in the Black southern community where my mother lived and encountered doctors and nurses working without protective gear, without the capacity for testing and without any expectation that resources would be coming soon.

My assistant, who lives in Boston, found herself traveling to Michigan, one of the hardest hit communities of color in the country, to be a health advocate for her sister. Her sister had to be flown to a secondary hospital outside of Detroit in order to receive treatment and be placed on a ventilator while she battled Covid-19.

One of our project directors, who lives in a majority Black community in Washington, D.C., relocated to her father’s home in Connecticut because she and her wife had just given birth to a newborn and found themselves living in a community where one thousand cases of Covid-19 were reported in their neighborhood alone. Another of our project directors, ended up sheltering in place with her college-aged daughter and elderly mother in Oakland, terrified of what might happen to her family if they became ill with the limited options they currently have for healthcare.

As the CEO of a majority Jewish women of color and people of color led organization, I continue to learn how essential our work to expand racial equity in the world around us is to our very survival.

Among the communities of Jews of Color and people of color that Dimensions offers direct-service to, we encountered hourly wage earners who have been or are worried about being laid off. We encountered leaders who work in education and healthcare and who have been deemed “essential” to the American economy, but have not received adequate protections or a living wage. As areas of the country began to open, we have all felt the impact of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the disparate reality that as people across the country are now venturing outdoors, many people of color cannot do so without fear of being killed. As protests spread across the country, our people are holding the overwhelming disparity and emotional labor of needing to care for and protect our health and bodies from a deadly virus while also needing to protect our health and bodies from policing systems and systemic racism in America that is just as deadly and killing us rapidly.

During this time, a veil has been lifted, revealing just how commoditized and expendable the bodies of women of color are in a racialized system.

From my White Jewish colleagues, I have been heartened to hear acknowledgement of the depth of loss and strain across our institutions, along with the privileges that many of us have benefitted from.

When we speak of systemic inequality, this is what we mean: Many have enjoyed the ability to leave urban cities and shelter in second homes, while others continued to live in packed urban dwellings, traveling on subways and buses to keep our jobs at Whole Foods, Home Depot and Target. Many of us had the access and resources to restock our fridges in single trips to the grocery store while others worried about whether our paychecks would stretch to the next time stores would carry basic supplies like milk, flour, canned goods and toilet paper.

Many of us have been harried, sequestered from our regular routines—while others worry that the disruption to our hard-earned stability might lead to homelessness. Many have been challenged by having to live in close quarters, for extended periods of time, with parents, children, partners and family while not considering that for many people of color, domestically and globally, sharing living space with parents, grandparents and children has been their only option.

Additionally, many of us did not have to worry about having family members in the mass incarceration system who are not only living in close quarters with others who are sick, but facing life and death conditions in our prisons.

Some have bemoaned having to provide services to ourselves like haircuts and home-cleaning, while others have to risk our health and safety daily by continuing to drive for Uber and Amazon, work in restaurants, and operate as tellers, cashiers, nannies because the alternative would be losing jobs that we cannot live without.

I find myself wondering how many of my White colleagues and neighbors are still paying the hourly workers, many of whom are people of color, that have regularly taken care of their children, homes and businesses while all are sheltering in place? I find myself wondering why mostly immigrant cashiers of color have replaced all the white cashiers at my local grocery store, and whether their employment will last once safety conditions improve.

I wonder who is calculating all the dollars that they have not spent on gas, transportation, coffees, haircuts, and pedicures while sheltering in place—and who has made a commitment to gift this saved amount to essential workers of color and those on the margins who have become economically insecure during this crisis?

As JOC staff at Dimensions, we are women of color who have been listening to discussions among our Jewish colleagues about the stress of managing boards and programs and keeping staff engaged under virtual conditions. We have been sounding boards for people’s fears about returning staff, retaining staff, saving JCC s and Jewish camps and getting back to “normal” post re-opening. What we have experienced less of are crucial discussions to our survival regarding how we as a Jewish institutional community are addressing and will continue to address glaring disparities in the impact of Covid-19 across race and class differences among Jews. As Jewish professionals within Dimensions, we are Jews, and we are women and we are also people in gender non-binary Black and Brown bodies who are triply targeted by persistent inequities within our systems that target us daily and threaten our existence. As our community continues to consider good shifts in practice that we can adopt in the wake of the pandemic, we at Dimensions are wondering who will join us in addressing the impacts of racial injustice and inequality on Jews of Color?

The good news is that Dimensions is already working with Jews of Color and allies to develop resourceful, empowering and resilience-based programs that have the power, through direct service, to support JOC in saving their own lives within a system that has consistently left them behind.

We hope that what will change as we navigate forward through the next stage of this pandemic will be the number of partners in Jewish spaces who see our liberation as their liberation and who will work with us to deepen opportunities for wellness and greater equity for all.

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July 27, 2020 by

We’re Going to Witness a Surge in the Current Health Inequality

MARION DANIS is a physician and bioethicist who directs the Bioethics Consultation Service at the National Institutes of Health. The views she expresses here are her own and not necessarily a reflection of the policies of the N.I.H. or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The coronavirus pandemic feels like a throwback to an era when human capacity to overcome diseases was minimal. We revert to ageold techniques—isolation, hand-washing, masks. The novelist Orhan Pamuk, who knows a lot about how it feels to live through plagues (he’s read many of the great novels about past plagues as he has been writing a new one), tells us our experience is similar in some ways but different in others. We fear the unknown, we start rumors and blame others for bringing the plague. But unlike the experience of past plagues, we aren’t in the dark; we can know what’s going on everywhere in great detail, and we avoid the full impact of isolation by connecting virtually. We are relying on the biological sciences to eventually find more modern solutions.

In the U.S., the healthcare system will be in a sad state after we have made our way through the pandemic. This will not be solely due to the outbreak but also due to policy decisions made before the pandemic, and during it.

Millions of people will have lost their jobs and will lose their employment-based health insurance as a result. Many people who worked in the gig economy without an economic safety net will be unable to afford the basic elements needed for health, particularly safe housing and adequate nutrition, and will not be able to afford healthcare without incurring debt. Many medical practices will have faced economic hardship and even closed, and healthcare practitioners will have lost jobs because all routine, non-emergency medical care will have gone on hold. We will witness an exaggeration of health inequality because death rates from Covid-19 have been higher among minority communities. We will recognize how important maintenance of public health infrastructure is and what a mistake it was to allow a lapse in preparedness for pandemics.

It will take remarkable optimism to see much good coming out of this pandemic. But perhaps the consequences will be so dire and the urge to fix the problem will be so great that we will urge or even insist that Congress pass legislation to create guaranteed income and expand health insurance, and demand that the executive branch plan better next time. 

 

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July 27, 2020 by

Global Tzedakah: Save for a Rainy Day? This Is a Downpour!

RUTH MESSINGER is the global ambassador of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), where she served as president and CEO for 18 years

I am fiercely convinced a horrendous consequence of the pandemic would be for Americans to go back to “normal” life, with too many misguided priorities. Instead, we need to organize ourselves in new ways:

First: We need to pay more attention to global problems, global needs. The United States cannot continue as a global leader if we tolerate growing inequities, if we ignore poverty, hunger, oppression, land theft, and denial of human rights around the world.

Second: The Jewish community must take a lead in looking at all the systemic inequities that are being laid bare by the pandemic. We must be a voice for creating a health care system that works for all Americans; a voice for exposing the limitations of our education systems, and the ways in which poorer people and people of color are the losers; a voice for adopting immigration policies that make it possible for others to make our country stronger. If we take seriously the Jewish mandate to pursue justice, we should support the range of initiatives in the Jewish community directed against racism, for gender equity, for refugees and asylum seekers. The same goes for efforts to act globally.

Third: The funders, foundations and federations in the Jewish community must dip into endowments to take on these challenges. Many of us were raised to “save for a rainy day.” Now we desperately need leadership in our community to say this is a downpour: Those with resources should be expanding their giving now, stepping up and investing to save an environmental group or an interfaith effort to address racial hatred.

Fourth: We need to advocate for policies that advance these goals: Helping the most marginalized people locally and globally, re-involving the U.S. in shaping environmental practices to protect the planet; and championing a worldwide effort to end hunger and hatred and advance human rights.

The pandemic offers us a chance to lead the way in global tzedakah. Let’s seize it. 

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July 27, 2020 by

Vibrant Stories from a Historic Plague

In late February, I was staring down a list nearly 50 books deep, all related to the topic I study full time: the music of Yiddish-speaking partisans, written and sung during the Holocaust. I’m almost always thinking about my research in one form or another, a constant hum that buzzes along in the background as I move through my days. My escape from the requisite anxiety and general malaise that comes from being deeply engrossed in Holocaust studies consist of the usual suspects: time spent with loved ones, meals shared with others, travel. But by mid-March, all the components of my life that buoyed me as I plowed through my sobering reading list were, necessarily, no longer possible.

My academic advisors tried to find the silver lining in the university shutting its doors and stay-at-home orders becoming widespread. “At least now,” they chorused, “you can read and research as much as you’d like!” A few of my peers expressed relief at having chosen topics of study that gave them an escape hatch when the news became too distressing, while I started sweating every time I contemplated beginning my critical literature review. My world shrank to fit the 540 square feet of my apartment, my days blurred together, and my mind raced at night as I tried to shut down my unrelenting internal monologue about genocide. I needed a distraction.

Enter the DecameronBoccaccio’s 14th-century masterpiece on the Black Death. The Plague is the framing device, the reason that his ten main characters (seven women, three men) flee Florence for a country estate. They resolve to spend two weeks outside of the city where people are dying in the street; two days of each week are to be reserved for personal duties, and two for religious observance. Thus, ten days in need of entertainment remain. Each person tells a story nightly; by the end of their confinement, one hundred stories have been shared. The stories themselves are exemplary of the virtues, vices, and anxieties that occupied the thoughts of those living through the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. Reading a book set during the plague that serves as a point of comparison for every other pandemic in modern history does, at first glance, seem to miss the point of seeking distraction from the novel coronavirus. But picking up the Decameron felt like slipping on a wishful persona, an alternate version of myself that studied Comparative Literature as an undergraduate, had been to Italy, and felt unbothered and privileged enough to see a pandemic as an opportunity to become more cultured.

In her 2013 New Yorker review of the most recent translation of the Decameron, Joan Acocella writes wistfully that Boccaccio’s ten bards “…gather in ideal fields. Birds sing; jasmine perfumes the air. The animals don’t know to be afraid of humans: little rabbits come and sit with the young people. This is the locus amoenus, or ‘pleasant place,’ of ancient and medieval pastoral poetry. It is a sort of paradise, and that is what it is based on: Eden.”

The novel coronavirus has illuminated and exploited the vast inequality that pulses within the United States; social distancing experiences vary wildly between socio-economic brackets. I won’t wax poetic on finding some kind of common paradise in the midst of panic; far too many have died to try and universalize a sense of excitement about how great art will be after this is all over. But I have a little green space a short walk from my apartment. The jasmine is blooming, and it’s not too hot yet. I can take a blanket outside, and force myself to think about courtly love, if only for an hour or so.

Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler is a graduate student, baker, and abortion rights advocate currently home in the South.

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July 27, 2020 by

“Is Now When I Should Panic?” •

Walk through adored cartoonist Roz Chast’s pandemic-related cartoons from The New Yorker and Instagram, accompanied by Chast herself. In a May 2020 conversation with Fran Rosenfeld, who curated the 2016 Museum of the City of New York exhibit “Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs,” Chast looks at some of her recent drawings. Chast likes making up fake books, like “Appendectomies Simple (do it yourself)”, “If I Say It’s a Casserole, It’s a Casserole” (a cookbook), “The Joy of Not Murderizing Each Other,” a relationship book à la The Joy of Sex. What is the pandemic like? “It’s like we all got old at the same time.” Have her characters been preparing for this Covid catastrophe for decades? “I was brought up to never be too happy,” says Chast. She discusses her 2017 book, Going Into Town, which was a love letter to all the things that make New York City what we now miss so much: the density, the restaurants. She is hoping that we get back to our “misanthropic complaining lives.” mcny.org/event/pastevent-now-when-i-should-panic-conversation-roz-chast

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July 27, 2020 by

Now. Next.

A cross-section of activists and thinkers weigh in on the present and its future— what perils we face, and what we might build from this epidemiological, social and political crisis.

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