Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes himself as an inexorable optimist. In a podcast discussing the good and bad that emerges from a crisis like coronavirus, the former UK chief rabbi said he chooses to focus on the chesed, or neighborliness, that appears in humanity.
When a fellow panelist in the discussion challenged him about, for example, toilet paper hoarders, the rabbi chuckled. Of course, he said, he recognizes those people and those tendencies. He just chooses “not to look too carefully” at that.
I’m afraid I’m not the optimist Rabbi Sacks is, though I wish I could be. I see panic. I see shaming. I see virtue signaling. I see a losing battle in confronting FDR’s immortal words: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
I continue to find that avoiding social media is an excellent way of maintaining sanity. It may not buoy my optimism, but at least it removes me from the toxic spiral. I don’t need to read about the latest battle between Donald Trump and White House reporters. I really don’t need to find out why #PelosiHatesAmericans is trending. More than ever — and yes, I realize I have a horse in the race — I find print newspapers a refuge. The bad news is all there, but it’s thoughtful, calm and factual — and it comes in manageable doses.
What does improve my mood is the effort of the Jewish community to stay connected. One synagogue has a WhatsApp group where members share virtual prayer experiences or volunteer to pick up and deliver groceries for those unable. People are finding new ways to connect, and to help each other.
Maybe Rabbi Sacks is onto something.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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