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In the eye of the storm




I guess this is because until now, the community was mostly vigilant and careful, and we didn’t think we would really be harmed by it. But many of us got tired of the stress of lockdown, and began getting lax and taking chances that were unnecessary. And many of us didn’t take those chances, and just so happened to be related to someone who may have contracted the virus unwittingly and passed it on.

Let me say at the outset, there is no blame here. I don’t believe that there is one single person in our community or in the greater society who wants to get sick or make someone else sick. It’s that simple. Nobody, even if they did decide to go to their best friends for a Shabbos lunch last week, did so with bad intentions. They were understandably sick and tired of lockdown. We all are.

Others decided that after all this time in isolation, what harm could one poker night do? Well, it clearly can and did do harm.

The Linksfield Clinic has now had to open a fourth COVID-19 ward, and our doctors are snowed under with people testing positive and needing help. The numbers that are coming back positive within and without our community are simply overwhelming. While many are asymptomatic and others a little sick, some are extremely ill.

Hatzolah, which has now started a special service to help COVID-19 patients who are at home, is experiencing a doubling in numbers every day. And it’s not even getting close to all those in need.

Is it too late to start taking extra precautions? As long as you are still healthy, then it absolutely isn’t too late. Right now is the time to stop taking any more risks.

And, if you have coronavirus, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Tell everyone, so that if there is any chance that you may have infected someone, they can be tested and act on it. There is no shame in getting flu, so why is there shame in getting this coronavirus? There is no shame in getting sick. Anyone who is going to shame you should be ashamed of themselves. The only way to stop the spread of this virus is to stop taking chances and to speak out if you have the virus.

This week, a certain school outside of the community sent an entire grade home for two weeks because one of the children in that grade tested positive for the virus. The child concerned wasn’t identified because, as the principal said in the late-night message, she didn’t want the child or his family to be stigmatised. It sounded noble. However, every one of those healthy children who were sent home to continue online learning has a family, including perhaps brothers and sisters at other schools.

So, where does that leave the family and the children at other schools? Do all the children have to stay home because the child at this school was infected? What of parents who go out to work? Could they be at risk of contracting or transmitting the virus? Who can tell, because without knowing who has the virus, there is no way of knowing if the other 30 to 60 children spent any time with him or her. If we knew who the child was, we could offer support to that family, and clarify which other children are at risk.

I don’t believe there is anything noble about keeping COVID-19 a secret, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in getting it. Surely, with so many of our community and people we know contracting the virus, this is blatantly clear.

I always believe that you should be ashamed of something you do with bad intentions. If you purposely harm someone or damage something, you should be ashamed. But getting sick from a virus that is invisible and undiscerning is nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody should be stigmatised because of getting sick.

Meanwhile, as the numbers of infected are stacking up, there is so much to be proud of in our community.

First, I know we have been quite tough on the proposals for opening shuls, but clearly the chief rabbi has found the best solution. Through deep consultation with some of the country’s top experts – who happen to be shul-going members of the community – he has decided not to rush opening shuls until it’s actually safe to do so.

He has also put in place a team of people to manage the return when it happens.

The action of our community since the pandemic hit South Africa has been incredible. The leadership ensured that our schools closed and then our shuls, long before other communities and the government acted.

Our communal leadership has been on top of safeguarding our community from economic, medical, and social damage. And this week, once again, they gathered to find ways to ensure that we stop taking risks, and maintain our own safety and security.

It makes me feel confident to know that we are so united as a community in trying to survive this pandemic, no matter what it throws at us.

Let’s discard any stigmas, protect each other, and follow the guidance of those in the know to ensure that we make it safely to the other side.

Stay safe, and Shabbat Shalom!

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