The world coronavirus crisis and Purim

Right now – since we cannot touch hands – we touch each person we see on the TV or online. In whatever dress, whatever color, or whatever language we can relate to them, in a way never seen before.

A LOT of the basics seem to be melting away, so we need to be holding hands. (photo credit: PXHERE)
A LOT of the basics seem to be melting away, so we need to be holding hands.
(photo credit: PXHERE)
I am sitting in my room like many other people in Israel and I do not know what to do. The world is being challenged by this novel coronavirus, but unlike the Spanish flu in 1918-1919, when 587,000 died, our flu is in the era in which infection and death can be witnessed in a brief second. My father, Louis Geffen, 15 at the time, told me that his father, Rav Tuvia Geffen, gave a sermon in January 1919, in which he made two points. “I urge everyone to keep as clean as possible – that should help.” The other point – which you can decide whether or not it was appropriate – was to help as many of the sick as you can. I am told that my grandmother, Sara Hene, almost died because she went in and out of so many homes. She developed a bad case of the flu, but God pulled her through.
I have been searching the internet furiously to find statements which might calm me – maybe others are doing this too. I have been a tiny bit successful. Edmund Wilson, noted writer, was morbid in what he offered. “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interim, great variety of symptoms appear.”
Well, we certainly have all the symptoms: death, financial failures, gates of countries being closed, as well as airplanes not being permitted to fly. This makes me shake every so often because that is about all I can do.
Here it is Purim – it appears that all activities and treats of the holiday have been halted. Can we observe Purim without all the excitement and joy, which it appears have been halted for the sake of the coronavirus? Where I live, the staff offered a wonderful satire of corona in song. They took the song “mashiach, mashiach” (messiah, messiah) and turned it into “corona, corona” and all of us, about 75 present, laughed and then laughed again when the-corona-word now turned around as death was shouted out at the top of our voices.
I pause, maybe Purim has something more to tell us. There are those who label Purim as doubtful because of all the questions raised about its authenticity. But that is the complete opposite of what the world is today. Each country has to close its door; the reality of a country being corona-death-free is by keeping the citizens clean. Those who have the flu go into the health-care facilities. Those who have been exposed spend two weeks thinking what they will do when they are freed.
Purim also makes it clear how important “interdependence” is. In the Purim story, Mordechai reminds Esther that she is part of a people. Now we realize day after day that every person in the world is interdependent.
Right now – since we cannot touch hands – we touch each person we see on the TV or online. In whatever dress, whatever color, or whatever language we can relate to them, in a way never experienced before.
When our scientists search for a cure, they realize in a telling way that they may save the world and all humanity.
Who knows? Maybe the Jews, as a small particle of the world, were picked by God for a second time: once to receive the Ten Commandments and another time now for the coronavirus. I am not trying to say we Jews work hard at solutions, but we are offering our services since we all are in the same leaking boat.
Reading the megillah is an art. It unites with the art of this scroll since it is the only one which we are permitted to illustrate. So seeking answers to the presence of the coronavirus is also an art because we can see the terrifying art in the pictorial anguish of all peoples. Sight renders us witnesses, even if we think that we do not have to see. Will we be alive or well enough to be witnesses? This plague appears to be not the hand of human beings but the poison of the viruses which continue to avoid all our efforts to quell them.
As I continue to write, I do not think that I feel any better. At least, I am lucky that I have a bit of a vocabulary and the dictionary as well. So, my heart is beating fast, my gnarled fingers can barely reach the right letters; my ears are twitching; this fellow, David, becomes an observer not able to stand straight as I once could.
Is this it for the world? A lot of the basics seem to be melting away. Will we be hungry like the elderly who almost have to beg for food?
Will we be living on the streets as the teenagers who sleep on the stones, sometimes in wet alleys? Is it that bad on this globe that we call our habitat? Ask as many questions as one wants – there do not seem to be answers –  and wait a few weeks, a few months, who knows when?
When you think inside your space where you reside, perhaps you will find what is needed.
Even if you don’t, you will be much more connected with all the world because they are suffering just as you are. The psalmist says, “I shall not die but live.” The leaders of today and the scientists – who create cures – need to reach out so we can hold hands together and devote our minds to The Cure.


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