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The Jewish Report Editorial

Inject suitable caution into Purim festivities

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The excitement is palpable. As more and more doctors and healthcare workers are vaccinated, there is a sense that we are slowly on our way out of this quagmire of illness, separation, and death.

So many of these frontline doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare industry have put their lives on the line to save ours. No oath or commitment is strong enough to make people do that. It’s pure determination to save lives that’s behind this – a life mission. The kavod that should go to these people is immeasurable.

And to see so many of them, who themselves may have comorbidities or vulnerable family members, rejoicing after getting their vaccine is exciting.

It means that the rest of our vaccines aren’t far behind, especially seeing as the next batch of vaccines is due to arrive in South Africa this weekend.

What we must remember is that these healthcare workers are, in fact, testing the vaccine for us. The vaccine isn’t yet registered for commercial use globally, in spite of it being rolled out in the United States, United Kingdom, and here. So, once again they are putting themselves at risk so we know how effective the vaccine is and what – if any – side effects there are.

Having said that, it’s clear that healthcare workers feel very confident in this vaccine.

You may wonder why we temporarily changed the format of our front page this week to photographs only and no stories. The simple truth is because these men and women being vaccinated is history in the making. We will look back on this time as a turning point in our pandemic crisis. Or at least, we hope we will be able to do so.

It was around this time last year that the Wuhan flu began to hit home. It began to sink in that this dreaded illness that had hit China and other parts of the world was heading this way.

For so many, Purim last year was the last Jewish festival that was celebrated in what was then the normal way. It was festive. It was bonding and celebratory. People took it for granted that they were safe when they hugged each other, danced together, shared a plate of hummus, or dipped into their finger food. Even sharing hamantaschen with friends was totally acceptable.

We took our health and safety for granted when we surrounded ourselves closely with friends and family. We also thought nothing of kissing and being unmasked – yes, even on Purim – with people we didn’t live with.

One year later, and so much has changed. Masks are the norm, and part of our protection from this dreaded coronavirus. Being separate is the rule. And, trying to find a way to celebrate Purim while still observing all the COVID-19 safety protocols is the call.

Our rabbis, Hatzolah, and doctors have put out a stern warning to us to totally downscale celebration of this fabulous chag.

In the words of doctors, they are “urging and appealing to everyone to make sure that this festival of Purim isn’t the catalyst for the beginning of another surge of coronavirus”.

While they aren’t saying we shouldn’t celebrate, they are saying that “this isn’t the time for communal meals, events, and senseless alcohol consumption”. They ask that we keep our seudot to “each person’s home/family bubble”.

They are dissuading people from sending and delivering mishloach manot to lots of friends and family as this could spread COVID-19. They suggest limiting this to a minimal number of people.

While, like us, they would love to celebrate Purim as we have always done, they have seen the ravages of this deadly virus up close, and want to guide us in doing what’s right to prevent a further surge.

The rabbis particularly ask that we limit our seudot to our nuclear family and focus on the “preservation of life” this year in the hope that next year, we can celebrate in the manner we are accustomed to.

Hatzolah gives some great tips in how to safeguard ourselves over Purim this year. This includes making sure all surfaces are sanitised and that people who don’t live together remain two metres apart at any given time. They also encourage plated food, and individually bottled drinks. They recommend having seudot outside and with as few people as possible, avoiding the elderly and people with comorbidities.

The vitally important take-home information this week is that we are on the right path but we are a long way from safety and security in terms of COVID-19.

It’s 100% up to us to keep our guard up, keep social distances, wash and sanitise our hands. You know the drill by now.

It’s too easy to let it go when the numbers are low. So easy! Nobody believes that when the numbers are low, they can get the virus. In fact, most people who have contracted the virus were shocked and never believed it would happen to them.

It’s exciting that the rollout has begun, and our healthcare workers are getting vaccinated. It’s brilliant and a sign of great things to come. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we won’t get there in the next few months.

The light is bright but it’s way down the line. We need to accept that we will still be wearing our masks through the middle of this year. We are most likely still going to have a third surge no matter how quickly we vaccinate two thirds of the population.

So, let’s lift our spirits because there is hope in sight, but let’s make a commitment to stay safe over Purim no matter how difficult that is.

Chag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

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