Wednesday, January 27, 2021 -
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My arm is outstretched

Even though it’s been 10 months since we’ve been living in a COVID world, I find there are still so many moments that catch me off guard, and would be deemed, “only in COVID.” Linguistically and logistically, it seems there is a whole new culture that is our COVID culture life.

There’s the humor, of course, too. The new Sunday, Monday etc. clock whose new goal it seems is simply to help us keep track of the days, forget hours and minutes. That kind of time keeping seems so passe.

And while the intimacy of indoor spaces expanding to include many of us through the medium of Zoom, it’s still weird suddenly to realize that, say, Prince Charles is speaking from his palace, and you are right there with him in his living room with him.

The other day, at twilight, I was walking up Central Park West admiring the lamp-lit snowy park when suddenly there was a familiar cadence in the air. It was the cadence of kaddish. I looked up at the street sign. Sure enough I was passing the famed Spanish Portuguese Synagogue and its outdoor mincha-ma’ariv minyan on the front steps of this grand shul. It was so touching and brought a real smile to my face.

Imagine my surprise when later that night, as I was walking down 100th Street’s narrow sidewalk, were people flanking me on both sides singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” They were outdoors this year, caroling each night right outside their church.

Its special to be in New York City this time of year and have all of the COVID paths cross one another. Prior to COVID we each lived our tidy compartmentalized lives, but now we are witnesses to one another’s practice of our respective faiths.

There is a certain intimacy to it, even though its being played out in the most un-intimate of spaces: the streets of Manhattan.

But this week, the most tangible COVID reminders since the tragedy of the seemingly unending brutal death notices of March and April are the uploaded photos on social media of doctors and nurses proudly getting vaccinated.

Trying to inspire us that the vaccine is safe have been the release of videos from various hospitals of choreographed dances and flash mob dances of doctors and nurses in celebration of science and their ability to receive the awaited vaccine. While you don’t think of doctors rolling up their sleeve to take a shot or dancing, as an act of leadership that’s precisely what these photos and videos are.

After everything the medical community has been through, seeing it on the front lines to be vaccinated meant that much more.

There is an interesting discussion on the fairness or merit of prioritizing vaccinations for all medical workers, not just staff working directly or indirectly in the field, over first vaccinating the elderly or other vulnerable to COVID populations. I hear that, but I have to say I’ve found so much joy and inspiration in seeing these uploaded photos of doctors getting vaccinated. It does make me feel more comfortable to get the vaccine.

A rolled up sleeve and an outstretched arm may be Rosie the Riveter territory. She became the symbol of female defense workers in WW II, and now it seems that the rolled up sleeve and outstretched arm is this generation’s iconic COVID vaccine image.

Upon receiving his vaccine, Bibi Netanyahu referenced the famous Biblical verse about an outstretched arm. Israel should totally create an “I had the COVID vaccine” button with that verse! I could see everyone walking around with that, it becoming a “thing,” promoting getting vaccinated. Or how about a re-created Rosie the Riveter, red polka-dot bandana and all, with the words “I got the COVID vaccine” overlaid on the famously colorful Norman Rockwell picture? I want that magnet on my fridge!

What’s so inspiring about all these photos of doctors and nurses getting vaccinated, though, is, aside from their celebration of science, how amazing it is to see history in the making. Even more, how touching their effort to calm the rest of us is by normalizing the vaccine, in order to promote an end to this pandemic. The more of us get vaccinated, the more we all contribute to herd immunity.

Due to the accelerated speed of the vaccine’s development, there’s no question, there is some skepticism out there. The mRNA that is being injected in order to help prevent getting COVID has actually been years in the making. It’s just this new application to the context of COVID that is new and that has been developed at “warp speed.”

Let’s do it. Let’s get those buttons and pins of an updated Rosie the Riveter or the famous verse from Exodus about G-d’s outstretched arm. We’ll turn the iconic WW II image into our own iconic COVID images.

My arm is outstretched.

Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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