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Baumel Joseph: So many questions, so few honest answers

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What kind of calamity is this?

These are surely strange times. There is no enemy at our doors, but the enemy surrounds us everywhere. Must I shun my friend, my cousin, my son? Who is safe and where am I secure? Do I need to buy supplies or is that just hoarding – giving in to mass hysteria?

Where can I get honest answers?

This is unprecedented not just in our experience but globally and maybe historically.

We have never seen countries in lockdown, isolating citizens, fearful of communal gatherings, shuttering the elderly, banning sporting events. We in the Jewish world have long taught the “lessons” of our history, of our many persecutions, of the Holocaust. But the majority of us have never come close to experiencing the loneliness, abandonment and fear of contact that our elders knew. We might have sympathized but not understood; we have never come close to knowing such all-encompassing trepidation.

Now we might express such undefined anxiety and apprehension. Where is it coming from? Whom should I avoid? What can I do?

I do not mean to compare this epidemic with any horrors or traumas of the past. I am only suggesting that our current situation brings shadows of other extreme moments that we had talked about – perhaps with some hubris –  but never truly known. Perhaps many of us sincerely believed it could never happen here. But now we are faced not with one local enemy, but with a global crisis. There is no real place to escape to,  no immunity guarantee.

Our physical systems are not prepared, and for the first time in modern history no one nation has come forward to champion a team of the “good guys.” There are no teams here. Is it really going to be every country on its own? Our universe seems ill-equipped: it cannot find a cohesive or integrated approach. Have we reached such a low point? How can that be?

How will history record this moment in time and our responses to it? I wonder.

Will it be called the toilet paper affliction? Forgive me for joking, but in fact humour is necessary.

We must resolve the mere fact that these necessary but extreme precautions are increasing communal and individual distress. Many societies manage stressful times by joining in prayer or celebrations or just actual physical get-togethers. These social happenings are not easily replaced by virtual appearances. Humans require physical presence and contact.

Babies in orphanages who are not held and cuddled are often socially or intellectually deficient in numerous ways. Now that we are self-isolating, how will we socialize and express our humanity. Facebook does not provide stimulating, active friendships. How will we be a community? How will we express our care and love for each other?

I communicate with my children and grandkids by phone and Facetime frequently. But that in no way replaces our need to be in close physical proximity, to kiss and hug and share food together. I need to be with them.

I need to see my husband who lives in a long-term care residence. Just today, thanks to a wonderful caring staff member, I was finally able to contact him by Facetime. The government locked his home down. No one, no family members or aides are allowed in. I understand the need and decision to keep these highly vulnerable people protected. But he is lonely and confused by my absence. And the wonderful staff are overworked. How will they manage without the aides and family members who fulfil many functions? How will our “protected” vulnerable residents survive?

READ: BAUMEL JOSEPH: ‘HINENI’ CAN BE A POWERFUL RESPONSE TO OUR SICK WORLD

And how will we entertain ourselves? The absence of sports on TV will further exacerbate the boredom and loneliness factor. Given all this housebound intense family living, expect an increase in domestic violence.

How can we cope?

So many questions. It is so frightening not knowing. Perhaps that is the biggest tragedy. Not knowing what this is, how long it will last, who will live and who will die?

These age-old questions, present in our Rosh Hashanah liturgy yet always current as they plague us especially now.

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