Virus sadness, anti-virus comfort

The weight of the worldwide death toll and weeks of segregation are taking their toll.

A woman wearing a mask plays a melancholy melody on her flute in downtown Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A woman wearing a mask plays a melancholy melody on her flute in downtown Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
You may have felt like this earlier. It finally caught up with me a couple of weeks ago. “It,” you ask. “What is it?’”
It is coronavirus sadness. If I were a clinician, I’d call it COVID-19 depression. The weight of the worldwide death toll, the blunderings of Netanyahu, who has lost it after doing so well a few short weeks ago, the idiotic babbling of a nonentity whom he made coalition chairman, and weeks of segregation took their toll.
Even the pair of mourning doves – whose many generations have nested and birthed on our windowsill – even they turned up barren. They, also known as turtledoves,  fled leaving a lone small elliptical egg unhatched on their bereft transitory nest.
Thinking of those whose freedom and that of their children was curtailed, that there were those falling into bankruptcy, perhaps lacking funds for food or air-conditioning was saddening enough.
Furthermore, even the safe place called reading turned unsafe.
The added sadness was first triggered by a brilliant book by Hugh Taylor, Digital Downfall.  Its subtitle perhaps tells the doom-laden conclusion: Technology, Cyberattacks and the End of the American Republic. Taylor is not a Cassandra shouting “Woe to Troy” at every intersection.  On the contrary, he is a cool thinker, inventive, deep and reserved, with a sense of humor belied by his orthodox garb and bearing.
What was I doing reading a book by a super-computer geek? Taylor is editor of The Journal of Cyber Policy, and has been in the enterprise technology and cybersecurity fields for over 20 years.  The book reached me because he is married to a niece, which explains why my reading stretched into this – for me – unusual field.
The book shows how Russian and Chinese official and “unofficial” bloggers are subverting the United States economy and politics. One line that sent chills down my spine stated as a matter of cold fact and general knowledge that China stole the plans for the American F-35 stealth fighter and have cloned it. (The Jerusalem Report is planning to devote space to cybersecurity in forthcoming issues, editor Steve Linde tells me.) Already doused by unhappiness, knowing that China has a foothold here, that vast state now has begun to exploit Iran’s tottering economy for its strategic purposes. China obviously plans to turn Iran and thus its satellites into areas of its influence, in competition as with Russia, which is already shielding Iran with one hand. China wishes to displace the United States as the main world power and surpass its neighbor Russia in every field and every area.
The Russians are next door to us in Syria, and at this stage seemingly are not out to subvert us, and certainly Vladimir Putin knows why.  One reason, in my analysis, is that  a strong Israel helps push Syria (and Iran) into Russian hands.
The entire mishmash in this seething cauldron of the Middle East is on high  boil due also to  a US president who has done great harm to his nation’s standing in the world.  This is a sad fact, repressed in the minds of many Israelis and Jews abroad, because of President Trump’s pro-Israel steps regarding the US Embassy and the recognition of the Golan as part of Israel.
Added all together with other threats to the world economy and the world death toll from the novel coronavirus, for the first time in months I was beset by true Weltschmerz. Not the shmaltzy growing pain sadness of late adolescence but in the original  German sense of a deep sadness about the  imperfection of the world and the dangers to human life.
For a while I found relief in reverting to the Biblical period of the Judean and Israelite kings, and later to the rather disgusting line of Hasmonean kings and high priests. Well, good old Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) was right. He said “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Just change the names: Hittite empire, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Egypt, Nubia, Greece, Rome to Turkey, Iraq, Iran. Russia, China, the United States. Egypt, Syria.  The same vicious “innerplays” and interplays, betrayal and shifting alliances.  Patricide and fratricide and dynastic wars and internal class political and personal struggles and strife abounded then.  And, like now there was jockeying for influence and power and money, groveling to external foes, stabbing them in the back, risking innocent life and limb for prestige, power, money and fame.
Two facts leap out of this breathtaking history that hold  true for all humankind and a third that is particularly relevant to Jews. First is that the nature of man never changes, second, the powerplay among states never ceases. Third, in general, be careful what you wish for, and for Jews, if you want a Third Temple, it will only lead to the further corrupting of our religion by its fanatics.
Having improved my mood by reading all this history, researched and phrased so brilliantly, if rather idiosyncratically, by the giant  Sir Simon Schama, I suddenly realized that reading history may please me, gaining “other” insights may make feel I am growing, but in reality there is little to be happy about.  (See Schama’s Volume 1 of The Story of the Jews, which I read in the Kindle Edition) What do we do to rise out of the funk?
The truth is I have no answer to that for those who are suffering deprivation across the world.  This suffering ranges from hunger and pestilence in much of the world, even before the new plague, to dictatorial regimes, under-education, lack of opportunity, of cooperation, and compassion.
So far, Israel has fallen short of Ben-Gurion’s hope of our being a light unto the nations, or Herzl’s vision of an open, decent liberal society.  There ae many forces working for compassion among us.  This is subverted by a sick political system, and fear-led electorate and an exploitative political leader and his circle of psychofants.
The demonstrations we see today are a sign that change is in the offing.
But “what has been is what will be….”  The cycle of good intentions eventually submits to the inborn evil inclination.
So far, this is the sum of human recorded history. Humankind has made it until now. The dangers of the day far exceed those faced in the past.  Again, we can only do what we can in our immediate circle  and within our own families. And to listen to what the prophet Micah said over 2,700 years ago, and try to live it as best we can: to act justly, and to practice compassion, and to walk humbly.
Micah said in full: “To walk humbly with your God.” For me this means to walk humbly with your best beliefs. As an almost nonagenarian, I recognize how often I/we fail ourselves. Perhaps one of the beauties of the human condition is to strive, but never to reach, and to love unstintingly those whose lives we embrace.
The writer dedicates this column to the memory of nephew Jeffrey Gilson, who died the week before this was written.  He walked humbly and joyously in the streets of Rome, Jerusalem, New York and California.

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