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Is coronavirus a punishment from God? Dear Abbys answer this and other big questions

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. In 2020, we are reviving the signature advice column, helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in this digital age. Send your questions to [email protected].

Illustration by Liana Finck

Image by Liana finck

Reupholstering the future

Dear Abbys,

Is now a good time to redo rooms in the house? I can’t stand any of my decor!

Looking for Change

Dear Looking,

Do you know how deep down a Food52 rabbit hole we have wandered lately? So deep, in fact, you’d think we had no budgetary constraints and no children running around, clamoring for attention (or food).

There has perhaps never been a better time for escapism via furniture/food/clothing/shoes/makeup. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good moment to take on a back breaking or costly project. It’s not safe or responsible for you to venture out to furniture stores or order chairs online for other people to haul into your house — it’s like the definition of “non-essential.”

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Look, you probably hate your decor because you’re staring at it 24 HOURS A DAY. (Do you also hate your family?)

Your rooms might indeed look hideous (sorry!), but anything you do right now could be a sort of pandemic-induced fever dream where you will wake up in two years and think: Why did I so desperately need this leopard-skin throw pillow?

It is, however, a great time to Feng Shui your space: move the existing furniture around, pull some stuff from the basement, paint a wall, put up all that art that’s sitting around, rearrange your bookshelves, move the damn TV to another spot, or find another DIY project. The doing is therapeutic and satisfying and we all need that right now.

But we don’t want to steal what might be the most soothing part of your home decor obsession, which is the fantasy: Clicking through endless imaginary living rooms online is about envisioning the better life you’d have with the dark blue chaise lounge and the vintage Morrocan rug and the perfect reading lamp. With the windows open and the fresh air blowing and people socializing within six feet of each other, eating fearlessly from the same wooden cheese plate, clinking glasses of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, sitting down for dinner around your long rustic table fit for 10, touching elbows.

We’ll get there, we just don’t have an estimated delivery date yet.

Is this a global timeout?

Dear Abbys,

What if my kid asks, “Did G-d send the coronavirus to punish us, just like he did when he punished Pharoah?”

Helpless Mom

Dear Helpless,

Thou shall tell thy child on that day that it is because of Sodom and Gomorrah and you not putting your Legos away when I asked, that this virus shall come to pass.

Kidding, of course. Please give your sweet kiddo a hug from us Abbys and assure them that there is no Almighty Punisher, up there on a cumulus throne, waiting to smite us all with disease and destruction.

Still, the question comes from a relatable place: what kind of G-d would let a pandemic terrorize our planet? Can we pray hard enough for it to spare us and our loved ones? What determines, as we chant on the high holidays, who shall live and who shall die?

One of us Abbys had a pretty terrifying concept of G-d as a child — a sort of omnipresent dictator who had to be worshipped for hours a day OR ELSE. This meant anxiously chanting the shema and the kaddish every day, begging G-d to forgive her for her sins. (Otherwise known as obsessive-compulsive scrupulosity that is now under control thanks to years of therapy and medication.)

Feeling overwhelmed? Need advice? Contemplating murdering your kids/spouse/roommate? We gotchu — send your problems to [email protected].

We’re not psychiatrists diagnosing your kid with OCD, but we do think this question is a real gift in terms of teachable moments — mostly for you to learn about your own kid and what’s going on in his or her brain. The key here is to just ask questions: Why does your kid think this? Where did this idea come from? Did someone plant this seed?

As parents we need to be careful to not over-explain or to say too much — especially something that might be beyond the scope of a young kid’s understanding. So let the kid guide the conversation, and answer honestly but simply, with some elasticity (“Some people believe…”). Just try not to leave your kid feeling like they’re to blame in any way or that they’re waiting for a thunderbolt to smite them.

Challah is thrown at someone's head.

Image by Liana finck

WWMRD (What Would Mr. Rogers Do?)

Dear Abbys,

I am retired, living down in Florida with my wife, and we are trying to isolate and stay calm to maintain our health and sanity. We spend a lot of time on our screened-in porch reading and meditating. Or, we did.

Lately, one of our neighbors has been blasting the news very loudly from his porch, and the news is so horrible. We don’t want to stop this man from listening, but we also don’t know how to get him to turn it down without screaming over his TV and seeming incredibly rude. Any thoughts?

No News is Good News

Dear No News,

Om shanti and amen.

One of us Abbys is a rabid Brian Lehrer fan and the other listens to The Daily podcast on her morning walks. But the thought of listening to someone else’s news updates makes us both feel anxious.

Even Mr. Rogers would have to admit, this is such a weird time to have neighbors. We can see — and hear! — everything they do and yet we’re not supposed to really interact. So it’s no surprise that we might thoughtlessly do a remote Zumba workout on wood floors at 6 a.m. or forget we are parading naked in front of the open window.

The last thing you want to do while stuck inside indefinitely is to get into a feud with someone who lives right next door. And yet, you have the right to find some peace on your own porch. So try slipping a polite note under your neighbor’s door. Maybe start with an offer to pick up groceries the next time you’re headed out. Acknowledge that we’re all in this crazy upside down world and trying to find some sort of equilibrium. And to that end, could they please lower their TV volume so you can enjoy the outdoors too?

For extra credit, you can stick a roll of toilet paper on top.

Abby Sher and Abby Rasminsky are writers living in, respectively, Maplewood, N.J., and Los Angeles. Got a question? Submit your questions to [email protected]


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