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Vale: Do you need a face mask to read this column?

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Tourists in Jerusalem wearing face masks. (FLASH90 PHOTO)

By the time you read this column, the COVID-19 pandemic will be over. That is actually wishful thinking on my part. The best-case scenario is that we will have flattened the curve – a new term to come out of this crisis – as a result of people taking appropriate precautions. Our collective efforts will have hopefully minimized the impact of this horrible plague. 

I am writing this column while in self-isolation, another new expression in our lexicon.  When we left last week for the United States to visit our grandchildren (and their parents), Ohio was not yet declared by our government to be a hazardous place.  That reality changed in the course of two days. We should have known the cosmos was shifting when they closed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during our stay.

It’s not necessary for you to wear a mask to read this piece. At the same time, those of you who are among the small percentage of people to give me negative feedback about some of my views, feel free to hold your noses.

A lot of Jewish insights into the crisis have been popping up on social media. Most are serious, but some are funny. It’s important to maintain one’s sense of humour at the same time as the situation is approached with the appropriate severity.  There were even jokes during the Holocaust. I came across an old book on Jewish humour in which it told about a person who declared that Hitler would die on a Jewish holiday. When asked how he could be so certain, the man said that whatever day the Fuehrer perished on would be a Jewish holiday.

All kidding aside, a reflective way of looking at this current threat is to focus on the type of questions we have been asking ourselves. Did I come into contact with that woman who tested positive? Did I shake hands with that man who is showing symptoms? How long ago was it that I was in the same room as that person who isn’t feeling well? If I go into that store will I be able to avoid coming within a few feet of any of the other customers? And what about the sales clerk, has she been exercising proper caution?

What these questions show is that we are right now very focused on other people. But it shouldn’t only be in a negative way. We can inquire if our neighbours are all right, especially those in isolation. We can find out if the elderly couple down the block needs someone to buy groceries for them. Maybe there’s a lonely person who would appreciate a call or an e-mail.

Of course, concern for others shouldn’t be restricted to trying periods. Even in the best of times there are people who would appreciate our assistance or just hearing from us. In the same way that we’re now looking over our shoulders for people who could potentially harm us, we can always be on the lookout for those who we can help.

Social distancing – a third new phrase – has created challenges, as we seek to avoid large groups and not engage in physical contact with people outside of our immediate family. The positive side is that it forces us to put more thought and effort into connecting with others in a meaningful way. The determination to move away may just be a way of bringing us closer together.

The COVID-19 pandemic will, God willing, disappear soon with minimal cost to people’s lives and health. When it’s over, we shouldn’t just be left with an expanded vocabulary. Hopefully the whole horrendous experience will have helped us to appreciate one another.

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