Modern technology allows us to zoom in from outer space to an individual walking the street. But, sometimes, we need to take a bird’s-eye view of a situation to see it in its entirety. By failing to see the whole picture, we often miss seeing the forest through the trees. We can be so close to a particular problem, and focus all of our attention and energy to dealing with it, that we can fail to recognize the accompanying development of another, potential disaster that is inseparable from the primary one. Or, while we do pay attention to a secondary problem, we don’t attach to it the seriousness that we attach to the main one.
Such is the situation with the present Covid-19 pandemic that has caused the world to slow down, to talk with one another, and even to put down weapons of warfare (not exclusively, but on the whole), in an effort to cooperate with each other to fight a common enemy, one that is tiny and unseen, until it attacks our health. The Coronavirus is no respecter of persons. It attacks people of every race, every color, every language and every religion. Its victims tend to be mainly older in age, but as the pandemic spreads, younger and even young people are affected, as well. There is no difference between rich and poor. A person wealthy in the things of the world has no defense against the plague any more than a person who is without means. In Israel, some who have survived the horrors of the Holocaust, who have survived the devastations of war and the nightmares of terrorism became victims to a tiny microbe. Stopping the spread of the disease and bringing it under “control” is the focus and concerted efforts of nations and governments around the globe. And rightly so.
What about the developing problem that is recognized, but is not receiving the attention that it deserves? The world is slowly stopping, figuratively, of course, so that it can take care of its health. And, as part of the plan of how to deal with the problem, we are generating another problem, potentially more widespread and more complicated.
Stay home! Practice social distancing! Don’t go to work, unless you are involved in what society considers to be “essential”. These can be and certainly are practical and reasonable guidelines in the circumstances in an effort to “flatten the curve” and slow down the contagion, so that the health-care system doesn’t collapse under the strain. Of course, social distancing is really another term for physical distancing – keeping ourselves removed from physical contact that could result in the spread of the virus and has already claimed the lives of thousands around the world. Most countries started to put this into effect too late. They tried to close the barn door after the cow had already escaped. By God’s grace, Israel started relatively early and by doing so, it undoubtedly saved the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of our citizens.
Still, let’s start with the presumption that this was and still is the correct procedure to follow. Besides the isolation and the social problems that have already developed from prolonged lockdown, another, immediate consequence is the potential economic collapse that has already begun in earnest in some places. Israel is not immune to such a consequence any more than any other country.
At the present time, within the last month, almost a million Israelis have lost their jobs and registered for unemployment benefits. Approximately 24% of the total work force is now without jobs. The government – such as it is – is working to enact emergency legislation to help alleviate some of the economic distress and is prepared to provide an 80 Billion Shekel bailout. Local governments can join in and ease the burden of monthly or bi-monthly payments. The tax authorities can join in and allow a deferment for a few months. Landlords can be involved in helping to minimize the economic burden and delay or even cancel rents for a certain period of time. One Israeli Member of Knesset said that he was willing to forego one-third of his salary to help those who lost their jobs and encouraged his colleagues in the Knesset to do likewise (link to Hebrew site only). But, these measures cannot go on for an extended period of time without the economy collapsing. If it does, God forbid, we will be facing another depression, perhaps even greater than the Great Depression of the 20th century.
This is not a doomsday prediction. It is a realistic appraisal of what could happen when businesses close, when demand exceeds not only supply, but is accompanied by the inability to pay for the supply when it is available. If people don’t work, they don’t pay tax. If they don’t pay tax, there is less money available to the government, state or local, to pay for social programs and provide assistance where and when needed. Whatever saving were accumulated over the years of employment will be utilized to stay afloat. There will be a need for governments to print more money to distribute to people who cannot generate active income because they are stuck at home, and in the process cause a severe inflation of the economy and a diminution in the value of the local currency.
If the economy suffers, services provided by public health facilities could become unavailable to any, except for the very wealthy. In the end, the health-care system that we want to protect from becoming overburdened and from collapsing will end up failing to provide the needed health assistance to those who can least afford it.
What choice do we have? We need to stop the spread of the virus and the only way to do that right now is to slow it down. OK. Understood. But, after about twenty-five percent of the work force is unemployed, and an even larger percentage can be generated over a relatively short period of time, the two questions that need to be asked and need to be answered are: “Is lockdown the best option to deal with the pandemic?” and “What happens when the Corona crisis ends?”
Businesses are already failing. Bankruptcies will undoubtedly increase. Some people may no longer have a job to return to when the pandemic ends. The disruption in the lives of the multitudes can create widespread fear, panic and pandemonium. The long-term effects of a prolonged lockdown, including, but not limited to, domestic violence and the traumatic impact not only on children, but adults, as well, could be devastating. And, the disheartening point is that we don’t know how long the physical distancing is going to last, or how long the economic “recovery” will take. The ones who will be hardest hit will not be those who are on a 6-month vacation twice a year, but those who put in their 8 to 4 or 9 to 5, with one or two days off at the end of the week for a bit of a break.
There has to be a better way.
Until then, we need to keep in mind that physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing. We can still reach out an touch someone! And while we’re considering how to stay in touch, we are given a golden opportunity to reflect, as one person did, on the things that are really important to him. As he stated:
“[This] period has allowed me some time to reflect on my life. I have offered personal prayers for those who are currently ill with the virus or with other infirmities as I wish them good health and well-being. I have thought about those who are chronically ill or disabled who have to spend most, if not all their time, indoors without experiencing the freedom to move about and take advantage of the beauties of nature and the pleasures of good health. I have a new appreciation for those who had no choice but needed to isolate themselves so they could live – the thousands of Jews who hid themselves during the Holocaust for weeks, months or even years, sometimes helped by good and righteous people, and did not see the light of day or experience the presence of another human being. And I marvel at the strength and courage of the Prisoners of Conscience – the Refuseniks – many of whom were ostracized by their communities or sat in prison and in solitary confinement for no other reason than they wanted to immigrate to the State of Israel….
It will take some time but everyone admits Gam Ze Yaavor – this too shall pass. Hopefully we will find a vaccine, we will save those who are ill so they can return to good health, and we can get back to living the lives that we did before the onset of this pandemic. However, life will have changed for us all and will never be the same. Let us hope that those of us who have lived through this period of human history will never again take life for granted but will be grateful for each breath we take, each friend we make, each love we share, and each community to which we belong.“
And along with the temporal, to reflect on the eternal: “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:9). “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3)
You’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you have. This is the better way.
Be well, bless, be blessed and be a blessing.