Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronavirus Update March 24: Extra Existential Edition

From the Rabbi's Bunker

Hi everyone

First, an offer by TBE member Eric Kaplan:

I know this is a challenging time for a lot of people in our community who are at a higher risk level than others. If anyone is in need of errands run on their behalf, please let me know. We also use Amazon Prime Now and Instacart for deliveries of groceries and home good needs. I can help people walk through how to use those services if needed. People may have to be patient and plan ahead as often time as some items are not available and some delivery windows take a few days. 

Let me know how I can help.

Best regards,


Contact Eric directly at if you wish to take advantage of his offer.

And here's another very special gift, from Pamela Tinkham...

A Daily Home Practice of Meditation, Mindfulness, and Yoga For You
A Daily Home Practice of Meditation, Mindfulness, and Yoga For You. (see her website)

I did say that I would not be sending these out every day, but duty calls, so I'm sending out one for tomorrow, and I'm sending it out tonight.  The term "existential threat" is overused, but tonight we face grave threats, of a medical nature here (and throughout the world), while Israel faces an existential political threat.

First, us.

I don't normally traffic in Twitter threads in this space, but since the overriding mitzvah for all Jews is to save innocent lives, I'm compelled to share this one by Dr. Tom Inglesby, Director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  

It is truly a matter of life and death that our government leaders listen to the scientists, to the public health specialists.  And it is the job of people like me (and you) to amplify such voices.

Social distancing is the foremost mitzvah of our era.  The Talmud states:

נע רבים מתוך ביתך ולא הכל תביא ביתך רבים יהיו דורשי שלומך

Prevent a crowd from gathering in your home. Do not bring all your friends into your house. Many will look after your welfare.  Yevamot 63b
Read Dr. Inglesby's thread.


Other Recommended Reading
The science of mourning is hard to pin down, as one might expect with such a complex human process, but studies suggest that rituals do help the bereaved: They bring some immediate relief to acute grief, and they establish formal avenues of coping and social support. Holding a funeral, saying goodbye to a loved one's body, marks the rift between life and death, the rending of the universe we feel. To bury, Harrison writes, is not literally or merely to put in the earth (humans also have cremation, and sky burial, and more), but "in a broader sense it means to store, preserve, and put the past on hold."
TBE's Sarah Darer shares the shock of Coronavirus on her life.
Back in those early days of March, I didn't feel panic. I bought some extra pasta, peanut butter, quinoa, and frozen vegetables, in case we had to be quarantined. My husband told me I was overreacting, but I argued that we'd eat it all eventually even if life went on as normal.

Spoiler alert: Life did not go on as normal, and my husband has since told me that I was being prudent, not overreacting.
Meanwhile this evening, Israel is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis of democracy (I'd call it a Constitutional Crisis, but they have no constitution).
I'm not kidding.

This was written earlier today, before the Supreme Court gave the Knesset speaker an ultimatum to allow for a vote that will strip him of his role and restore majority rule.

Here's what happened tonight.
Israel's top court on Monday night ruled unanimously that the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, must hold a vote by Wednesday to elect a successor. In a devastating ruling, it accused him of undermining democracy by refusing to do so. The court issued its ruling barely an hour after Edelstein had rebuffed the justices earlier non-binding stance that such a vote must be held.
Israel could stumble under the coronavirus, at precisely the same time that its democracy begins to fray. ...No one who has ever been here can imagine, even for a moment, that Jewish life anywhere else can approximate what has been built here.   And so many of us are willing to risk that? So it seems.
American Jews, who are overwhelmingly politically liberal, would not support a Netanyahu-like government in Washington; why would they support one in Jerusalem.

To lighten things up a bit (hard to do tonight), this one has been going around.  Here is an edited version:

Passover 2020

1. To maintain social distancing, only two people will be allowed to attend at a time, and we will be metering entry. We will be sending a Google doc so that you can sign up for your preferred portion of the seder in 15 minute shifts: The Four Questions; The Four Kinds of Children, Dayenu, The 10 Plagues, Elijah and the Afikomen. We anticipate a lot of interest in the Plagues section so we will have to make some hard choices. (NOTE: if you have children under 5 who can only attend with their parents, as long as they are entirely wrapped in plastic, you can bring them; no need to sign them up).
2. Some Seder practices and traditions will have to be modified. For example, the family style servings of haroset, matzoh, horseradish, and salt water will have to go. Each guest will receive a pre-packaged box of the essential ceremonial items plus a bowl of matzoh ball soup. You should be able to cry your own salt water tears.
3. The ceremonial hand washing, however, will be emphasized. Everybody will wash their hands every five minutes.
4. I inquired with the Almighty about the four glasses of wine limit and proposed raising it to eight. She said no problem at all. So there's that.
5. Elijah has advised that due to COVID-19 restrictions in his own organization, he will not be able to attend in person. He is learning how to use Zoom (like the rest of us) and we are hopeful that he will be up to speed by then.
6. The 10 Plagues section will be modified to focus on the one obvious plague. The other plagues don't seem that relevant. The kids are hard at work making custom COVID-19 plague masks. The design will be reminiscent of a dog cone. The good news is that they won't mess up your hair! (And we are obviously not sticking our pinkies in our wine and placing drops on our plate and then drinking the wine!!)
7. For the Afikomen, we have determined that having children with grubby hands engage in a hunt all over the house for a small piece of matzah split between all the guests will not work. We will conduct the Afikomen ceremony ahead of time wearing our N-95 masks and gloves and apportion it in separately wrapped pieces.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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