When President Trump launched Operation Warp Speed in May 2020, many breathed a tentative sigh of relief knowing that a safe, effective vaccine was our best hope in the battle against the COVID-19 virus, which had affected every aspect of our lives. Schools and businesses closed, travel all but completely terminated, celebrations postponed. Perhaps most tragically, those sick with the virus who were hospitalized were terrified and alone. Almost everyone is aware of at least one family member, friend or neighbor who had to sit helpless as a loved one died alone in the hospital without being able to say goodbye or even have a proper funeral. In the face of this tragedy, President Trump used all his executive power to position the United States to be a leader in the fight against the deadly coronavirus.
Fast forward to September 2021. Months after the vaccine was made available for all those able to take it, some of our local Jewish congregations have polled congregants to find out how to navigate this ongoing situation as they prepare for the High Holidays. The only thing that remains certain is the uncertainty.
We will never know what would have happened if the disinformation campaign against the vaccine and, even more bewildering, against masks, had been effectively addressed instead of amplified by some of our elected officials. Perhaps our children would be more protected against the current surge in cases. Perhaps our health care workers would feel more supported. Perhaps our schools would have fuller enrollments, with fewer students and teachers out of school due to exposure to the virus. Perhaps we could be planning for full sanctuaries in celebration of Rosh Hashana.
Instead, we remain deeply affected by the virus, guessing at how to best proceed in the ongoing uncertainty. During a recent JCRC virtual lunch call with Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, he confirmed that Nashville never actually got to the final phase of reopening. We remain stuck in the early phases, though you would never know it from the crowds on Broadway, or the lack of masks at indoor public events. He admits that politics have been in the way of effective response, with battles between local school boards, local governments, the state legislature, and the Governor. These politically motivated battles have only served to complicate and obfuscate an already challenging landscape, and our children are paying the highest price as more of them become infected and hospitalized. Vice Mayor Shulman suggested that it is time for leaders to sit down and address this crisis together. Most of us think that is long past due. This is a health crisis, and the political grandstanding is only serving to worsen this tragic situation.
So here we are. Continuing to guess as to how to proceed with planning for celebrations, events, and programs. This past spring, in the small window of hope that we were returning to some level of normalcy, JCRC began plans for resumed large scale programming, including arranging to bring Noa Tishby to Nashville to present on her well received book, Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth. We remain hopeful that we will be able to host Ms. Tishby in person, at West End Synagogue, on Tuesday, October 5 at 7pm. We are planning this as a hybrid with both an in person and virtual option and hope that the in-person option will remain possible. Other upcoming JCRC programs include a lunch and learn call with Bob Scott, Field Coordinator with Christians United for Israel (CUFI) on Friday, October 22nd at noon.
Our Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee masks say, “We are all in this Together,” and that remains true. Those demanding freedom from the vaccine and masks seem to forget that the United States tradition of freedom comes with responsibilities. Freedom without responsibility is the definition of anarchy.
May we all be blessed with health, joy, sweetness, hope, balance, and grace for the New Year. May we all work together to ensure both our freedom and our shared responsibility for one another. May our children be protected from illness and harm. May we be able to be together in person for celebration and observance. And may we all know peace.