Please stop telling one another to “stay safe and health,” without acknowledging the immense privilege of a roof, space to physically distance, and access to personal protective equipment, like clean masks; resources and a network able to support you in time of need; historic access to housing, employment, education, and healthcare; and, if you’re so fortunate: an environment where gun violence, domestic violence, and other “epidemics” were not already at work before Covid-19 arrived.
Maybe start saying, instead: “Stay concerned and compassionate.”
“We are in a wilderness [bemidbar] — every day of this pandemic and in our Torah reading cycle, and we are out here to learn something new about being in a diverse community thriving in challenging circumstances.”
Start acknowledging every day, in some new way, the deep inequities that accompany us on this journey, the disparities in the prevalence and severity of Covid-19 depending on where we live, the color of our skin, our immigration status, our gender expression, our physical abilities, and many other factors.
“Wherever you are, it’s probably Mitzrayim [“The Narrow Place,” biblical Egypt]” has been a catch-phrase for many of us since Michael Walzer published Exodus and Revolution in 1986. We have found inspiration in the image Walzer presented of a disparate group “joining together and marching” toward something better. But that image has, for far too long, tricked the comfortable among us into thinking we are marching toward equality and justice, when we’re, in reality, dragging the whole of that Narrow Place along with us.
In this pandemic, that fantasy “marching together” obscures deep, dangerous differences in how our various communities are faring. In DC compare, for example, the number of Covid-19 cases per 1000 people, in these locations:
Woodley Park: 3.5
Adas Israel Congregation, National Zoo
Historic Anacostia: 11.3
Big Chair, We Act Radio/Charnice Milton Community Bookstore (my work)
Cathedral Heights: 3.1
near Temple Micah, Washington National Cathedral
Fort Lincoln: 21.0
Prince Georges county line, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Shepherd Park: 15.8
Ohev Sholom, Tifereth Israel, and Fabrangen
New Synagogue Project
Brightwood/Brightwood Park: 19.1/22.6
southeast of Shepherd Park, northwest of Petworth
Capitol Hill: 2.6
Hill East: 4.5
Mount Moriah Baptist Church (interfaith partner of Hill Havurah), my home
Stadium Armory: 69.0
includes DC Jail, Harriet Tubman women’s shelter
For these and more data, review this interactive map of Washington DC Corona Virus Positives as of 5/15/20.
If you live elsewhere, to paraphrase Michael Walzer: it’s likely no different in essence.
Stop saying “we’re all in this together”
and start working to create a world
where that might be just a tiny bit more accurate.
Let us keep in mind some teachings of the oft-cited Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; his friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the prophet Amos whom they both studied and often quoted:
God does not reveal [Godself] in an abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world.
The characteristic of the prophets is not foreknowledge of the future, but insight into the present pathos of God.
All men care for the world; the prophet cares for God’s care….Sympathy opens man to the living God. Unless we share [God’s] concern, we know nothing about the living God.
– The Prophets, vol. II (1962), p.3, 11, 284
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.
– “Beyond Vietnam” (1967)
Because you trample on the poor…
I know how manifold are your transgressions
Hate the evil,
and love the good,
and establish justice in the gate;
Let justice well up as waters,
and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
– Amos 5:10, 12, 15, 24
To learn more about what’s going on in the DC area, visit Black Coalition Against Covid and Many Languages One Voice. And here is a brief overview of Jewish congregational offerings to learn more and/or get involved.
See also see related text and podcasts at Rereading Exodus.
The current weekly reading in the annual Torah cycle is “Bedmidbar,” usually translated as “in the wilderness,” or, sometimes: “desert.” The Book of Numbers 1:1-4:20.