The Wave is Coming: A Jewish Response to Coronavirus

Before a tsunami hits the coastline, all the water recedes. Where there was, minutes ago, ocean, there is suddenly all that it once covered. The muck and debris, crustaceans scuttling and fish gasping for air all briefly exposed before the wave comes with terrifying ferocity.

One week into the first significant efforts to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and it feels like we are waiting for the full force of the wave.

As the water recedes, as society is reshaped by physical distancing, as schools close and millions lose their jobs, we can see with startling clarity what may have been previously obscured. A healthcare system designed for profit, not care. Historic levels of wealth inequality, economic insecurity, personal debt, and homelessness. Corruption and profiteering at the highest levels of our democratic institutions. Growing authoritarianism powered by bigotry and xenophobia, paired with incompetence. The costs of unchecked capitalism. Centuries of structural racial inequalities.

These chronic dangers were all present before the pandemic — millions of families have been living with their consequences for years. With incredible urgency, the pandemic has revealed their interconnectedness, as well as our collective ability to solve them.

In the face of the coming wave we can see with new clarity that our fates are intertwined. Even our current physical isolation is an act of social solidarity. We can see that none of us are safe until all of us are safe. None of us are free until all of us are free.

In our Jewish tradition, water is often fundamental to new beginnings: the flood before a reborn world; a baby Moses floats down the Nile to his safety and ultimately the liberation of an entire people; a sea splits, opening the way towards the promised land; new Jews are welcomed into klal yisrael, our peoplehood, through an immersion in the ritual bath. Another world is possible, and this moment is revealing exactly how necessary it is.

We can build it together.

The wave is coming, and we have a choice to make. Will we advance an inclusive and vibrant vision for our country, where we are all free and safe, no matter where we come from or what we look like? Or will we allow ourselves to be further divided by fear, bigotry, and lies, and overtaken by the authoritarianism and greed of politicians who want to create a country that’s only for themselves?

Covid-19 has laid bare the dangerous incompetencies, insufficiencies, and misplaced priorities of this administration, which puts both our health, and our democracy, at grave risk. They’ve wasted time, downplayed risk, stoked racism against Asian Americans, and peddled false hope. They are responsible for a lack of preparation and insufficient testing that has exacerbated the crisis. We cannot let an administration that would trade public health for the performance of the stock market exploit this moment of uncertainty to clamp down on our rights, further concentrate wealth and power, and push extremist policies that harm targeted communities. There is no question that their choices will cost lives — the question is how many.

The wave is coming, but we can unite together to shape the world that follows. Our collective actions in the coming weeks will determine the long-term impact that the current public health, political, and moral crises will have on our society. Our decisions as American Jews will shape the character of our community for generations to come.

It is precisely in moments of acute crisis and threats to our immediate well-being that we must also look beyond the here and now, and envision the tomorrow we wish to create. While we make sure that everyone afflicted with Covid-19 receives the care they need, let us also commit to healthcare for all. While we work to suspend mortgage payments for those recently unemployed, let us also address the crushing debt that shackles communities. While we make sure that those suffering on the front lines of economic collapse can endure, let us also look to ensuring living wages for every worker in this country. Let us not only survive in the present, but build for the future of a just economy, an inclusive democracy and a compassionate society.

Ultimately, this new virus isn’t about a “foreign” invasion, the stock market, or a re-election campaign. It’s about us. As humans, we are each a potential carrier of this virus. Like bigotry, racism, and xenophobia, we are capable of spreading it. But we can also be agents for change. We can spread hope, inspiration, and solidarity, too. The choice is ours.

The wave is coming, and it will knock us down. The only way we rise back up is together, as one.

— Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc

This moment calls for our solidarity, our compassion, our resilience: Add your name to this Jewish response to coronavirus.