We Jews as a community have had a tough time of it these past months. Of course nothing that compares with the pogroms and the Holocaust that were visited upon us in the past. But it has been a profoundly adverse experience all the same. And as we approach the Rosh Hashanah Day of Judgment, we have a special incentive to be introspective and to resolve to pray as hard as ever for a better year than the last.
In addition to the tragic personal losses, it seemed for a while that not a day would go by without some great Torah personality falling victim to the coronavirus. The spread of the virus hearkened to the biblical plagues as it radiated across the globe. There were, to be sure, pandemics in the past, but none, we think, that so strongly conjured up so central a point of origin.
And this is to say nothing of the coronavirus devastation visited upon our Torah educational system. A fundamental belief is that it has been Jewish education that connected us with the Divine and kept us going over the centuries, so we suffered mightily during lockdowns and quarantines.
But it is not only recovery from pandemic problems that we should be praying for, for it is hard to recall a time when Jewish New Yorkers were arbitrarily singled out for special opprobrium by state and local officials purportedly addressing a community-wide phenomenon.
Religious gatherings generally had special restrictions imposed on them in the name of the pandemic – as opposed to, say, rallies calling attention to the evil of racism. But it was the Jewish subset by name that was called out by New York’s mayor and New York State’s governor and literally threatened in gutter language. The courts made quick work of these excesses. But the episode has served to expose the fragile place to which our Jewish community has come.
And just the other day, we learned of a similar outrage by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the challenged, notoriously inconsistent, although much touted federal infectious disease guru. In an interview the other day on “CBS This Morning,” Fauci was asked a COVID-related question: “How close are we to getting back to some sense of normalcy where there are fewer guidelines and we don’t think about the coronavirus on a daily basis…”
Fauci responded by saying herd immunity is a function of how many people get vaccinated:
“You have to get to a situation like with measles, like you were like 90-plus percent of people were vaccinated and really got that kind of what we call herd immunity. You know what that number is, because when it gets below that number, you start to see outbreaks, like we saw some time ago in the New York City area with Hasidic Jewish people who were not getting vaccinated.”
But as many have noted, the demographics belie his numbers. The larger-than-the-norm percentage of young people in the Hasidic community means that a disproportionate number of people will be vulnerable. Moreover, the 2018-2019 outbreak to which he refers began in states having virtually no Hasidic populations. Further, NYC Board of Health statistics document that the measles vaccination rate in Brooklyn schools is in excess of 96 percent.
Surely, had he wished to be objective, his argument could have benefited immeasurably by reference to some glaring statistics affecting the black and Latino communities reported on several occasions by the New York Times:
In its May 20, 2021, edition, The Times reported that black and Hispanic New Yorkers are getting vaccinated at significantly lower rates than other groups. [NY]Citywide, only 33 percent of black adults have gotten a vaccine dose. For Hispanic adults, the rate is 42 percent. About 51 percent of white adults have received at least one dose, and 73 percent of Asian adults have gotten a dose.
Two weeks before Fauci made his herd immunity observation the Times homed in on black New Yorkers in the 18-44 years age group and reported that only 28 percent are vaccinated. The Times also made a point of noting that this was at a time when the Delta variant was coursing through New York City. Yet none of this made the Fauci cut.
But blaming the Jews has now become unremarkable.
Consider also some comments delivered by Pope Francis a bare two weeks ago. According to the Jerusalem Post, in a recent homily in a general audience, the Pope said “The Torah does not give life… It does not offer the fulfillment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfill it…. Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfillment in Christ.”
The Pope appears to be reverting back to the pre-Second Vatican Council reforms of 1965 which supposedly repudiated the “teaching of contempt” toward Jews and Judaism. Indeed, he seemed to be renewing the canard that Jewish religious practice in the present era is obsolete, having been superseded by Christian doctrine.
Representatives of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate have asked the Vatican for clarification, but as of now, it seems, it just more evidence of Jews being fair game.
And then there is the spike in attacks on Jews in Boro Park, Williamsburg, at a yeshiva in Denver, and in several European countries. Plainly, the ordinary rules of deterrence no longer fully apply to Jews, and to an increasing number of young minorities, attacking Jews without hesitation has become less and less of a big deal.
Finally, our community suffered the Meron grandstand collapse and Surfside and Surfside Florida condo collapses. Even now, recriminations about human responsibility failures are heating up.
But while we will not presume to offer our ruminations about G-d’s will, we do believe that it behooves us to soulfully introspect about where we are as a people and where we are headed.