In coronavirus, death is not just a number

Surely we should be mourning the loss of people – it’s difficult to mourn statistics.

SHAARE ZEDEK hospital team members assist a corona ward patient, in Jerusalem on September 23. (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
SHAARE ZEDEK hospital team members assist a corona ward patient, in Jerusalem on September 23.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Have you noticed how – in these COVID-19 days – time is not what it should be?

It gave me a shock to realize that my three-month prescription pills were virtually finished! What had happened to the last three months?

For sure, as a senior citizen, time is of the utmost importance. It is particularly disturbing to hear experts talk of a further two years before we are able to return to some form of normalcy. This is not something I or my contemporaries want to hear. Our life is on hold but the years continue to pass – a reality that is difficult to digest.

My feelings move from sadness to anger. Sadness at the possibility of not being able to see my London-based family in the near future; anger because of the apparent mishandling of the pandemic here in Israel.

We are told by “the powers that be” that the public is to blame – never mind the confusing messages brought about by politicians who “know better” than the medical professionals who they appointed.

We have reached the unenviable position of having the most infected individuals, per capita, in the world. Our death rate is climbing fast but while given daily statistics of infections, seriously ill patients, those on ventilators and those who succumbed to death all are projected as numbers.

Yet each death is a person; each has a name; each is part of a family. Surely we should be mourning the loss of people – it’s difficult to mourn statistics.

Announcing daily death figures does not appear to register with the many. The time has come for all to connect meaningfully with what death means. Death is a person, it has a face, it has a family and it had a life – it is not just a number.

Do we spare a thought for how coronavirus patients are dying? Each one devoid of visits from dear ones ; devoid of the love, the kiss, the words of a daughter, a son, a mother, a father to those on their deathbed left alone and prevented from saying goodbye.

True, there are those members of the public who do not follow the rules appertaining to containing the virus. Many simply flaunt their disregard. I believe part of the reason is that numbers do not touch us – just one story of who died and how they died would make a difference.

Death statistics have little meaning without the personal projection.

Six million Jews were barbarically murdered in the Holocaust, but tell one story about an individual who perished and we can identify.

The War of Independence claimed the highest number of dead of all the wars Israel fought – what resonates with me is not the number of dead, but my childhood memory as a chavera of my Bnei Akiva group in London. The madrichim (counselors), aged 17 and 18, would ask us to stand at the beginning of each meeting to honor and remember those in Israel fighting and dying for the Jewish state. One occasion registered deeply when our madrichim asked us to stand specifically to pay tribute to two of their personal friends who had been killed in action. It is a memory that has remained with me for all these years.

What of other wars our country has had to fight? A Yom Hazikaron visit to the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, accompanying a close friend who had lost her son in the Yom Kippur War, reverberates with me up until today. As I passed grave after grave seeing the 18-year-old, the 20-year-old buried in this spot with their father saying Kaddish at their gravesides – this is what moves me and makes me comprehend the price we have paid for our survival.

COVID-19 IS not a war like any other, but it is a war that must be won. Those who have died and will die deserve our respect. They are not just numbers. Perhaps the time has come to confront the public with the real people behind the numbers. It is easier to identify with a person rather than a statistic.

There is a stark difference in the way we are reacting to this battle. Wars in the past have united us, but this war is creating divisions. We are categorized as being either a “rightist” or a “leftist” or in the religious or secular camp. Is this a way of dehumanizing those of us who believe our leaders are not putting the good of the country first but rather their own political survival?

What happened to our leadership? Former leaders placed the country’s needs in the forefront. Today we witness how it is the politicians who are making life-and-death decisions based purely on retaining their political positions. They reject the medical guidance of coronavirus czar Prof. Gamzu. Therefore it should not be surprising to find members of the public refusing to abide by the frequently changing laws when the United Torah Judaism party threatens to leave the government, spurning the new regulations.

The Likud/Blue and White coalition was formed on May 17 specifically to address COVID-19. Tragically, the prime minister’s tax refund took precedence. Some seven weeks ago Prof. Gamzu proposed the lockdown of red neighborhoods – a proposal not accepted by the government because of political pressure.

At a time where hospitals are overflowing and with the autumn and winter soon upon us, the prognosis is not good. We are also just weeks away from a government likely to fall due to being unable to agree on passing the budget. What then?

Death is not just a number, it is a person – a sentence that should be impregnated not only on the public but especially on the country’s leaders. 

The writer is public relations chairwoman of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. The views expressed are hers alone.