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A Baal Teshuva, I chose this community. In Covid, they keep choosing to hurt my family.

‘What you do, you do directly to everyone else’

Editor’s note: The author’s first name was removed in September 2023 at her request.

Now it’s really hit home. The news was recently inundated with the story of the frum wedding that took place last week, which happened to be one of the worst days of Covid yet. No, it wasn’t in a far off city somewhere else, it was just miles from my home in Chicago. I am ashamed. I am embarrassed. Most of all I feel like I am completely distant from the community I chose to be part of.

Raised in a Conservative home, I grew up with a love of Judaism. But I always thirsted for more. I didn’t want Shabbat to just be a meal or occasional service, I wanted it all. I went to Israel with Camp Ramah when I was 16 years old and something inside of me was ignited. The land spoke to me, I felt like I was walking in the Torah and I felt G-d’s presence all around.

Nothing was the same after that. And once I was in secular college, my need for “more” was solidified. I dropped everything and spent four months immersed in a women’s yeshiva, learning from a beautiful variety of teachers, who helped me grow even closer to my inner soul. Soon after I met the love of my life, who had the same dreams of leading a Jewish life, adhering to the Torah laws and growing together in pursuit of a meaningful life.

Life has not been perfect. We have been thrown some major curve balls, such as a child with a progessive form of muscular dystrophy. But we have been fortunate to be surrounded by a loving community, who pray for us, bring us meals and love us through it all. And we have been fortunate to raise children in a Torah framework, getting the education we desire for them and seeing them find their way in their Jewish expression and relationship with G-d.

When Covid struck, it double struck our family. Because of our son’s greater risk we have been in isolation the entire nine months. We only venture out for walks or to doctor visits. We also have been blessed to welcome a baby during this time. It has been challenging, but we have managed through it. We are a close family and are fortunate to work remotely and enjoy a single family home with outdoor space. We have done it. But unfortunately many around us have not.

I cannot wrap my head around what people are willing to do, risking their health and those around them. Last night there was a wedding of 300 people indoors. The pictures show many without masks. And not too far away, in hospitals all over the country, we had the highest amount of deaths in one day. I just don’t understand it. Are people choosing to ignore what is going on? Do they think it doesn’t apply to them?

But this doesn’t even begin to touch on the deep sadness I am feeling.

It feels as though my community is saying, “We don’t care about you, your child, or anyone else who may die from this virus”. They have turned their back on us.

I chose to live this life. And wasn’t I taught that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, supercedes every commandment? Even on Shabbat, a woman in labor must be driven immediately to the hospital. A life is a world, according to Judaism.

So with every meal at which people gather together, with every playdate, with every time they don’t wear a mask and ignore Covid, I’m being pushed further and further away. This is not the community I first came to. This is not representative of the beautiful souls I have met, who go to great lengths to run to do a mitzvah or a chessed. The community I came to was one of putting others ahead of oneself, or loving thy neighbor as thyself. What happened?

This is not a matter of personal choice. What you do, you do directly to everyone else. You may not like wearing a mask, you may hate that you cannot attend your cousin’s wedding, but this is not about you. I wish we could come together and weather the storm together. Each in our individual arks, like Noah, but connected and battling it as one.

There are good people doing the right thing. But I find my feet in what a wise teacher once told me: “Do not confuse Jewish with Judaism.” I know in my soul, in my gut that Hashem, G-d, isn’t pleased with those who are flaunting their disregard for the pandemic.

As my mother always reminded me when I was a child, “Just because everyone is jumping off a cliff, doesn’t mean you follow them.” So here I am, at the top of the cliff, holding my children tight as we watch others jump. G-d whispers in my ear that it’s going to be OK, and I’m just going to have to trust that. I will stay strong, regardless of what others in my community might be doing. And I hope by doing so, I am modeling the right thing for my children, if no one else.

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