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Climate change, inequality, anti-Semitism, occupation: Corona is a chance for a reset

Never has the period between Passover and Shavuot been like this. The 49 days of counting the Omer, to which I have been a bit too episodically attentive over the years, have never had more significance to me.

Will there be any measure of clarity or insight on the other side of it — even Revelation, as the Israelites received on Shavuot?

David N. Myers

Today, these seven weeks provide a measuring stick for our confinement during the Corona-Zeit, the time of the COVID pandemic. In Jewish tradition, the days of the Omer mark a period of mourning owing to the death of 12,000 pairs of students of Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud (Yevamot 62B) posits a number of causes: first, because the students did not “treat each other with respect;” second, because of a vaguely defined plague.

How long did the plague last? According to some accounts, it ended on the 33rd day of the period, Lag Ba-Omer. According to others, that was only a temporary respite.

Now we ask ourselves how long the Coronavirus will last. Will we soon be liberated from our state of terror and grief? Will there be any measure of clarity or insight on the other side of it — even Revelation, as the Israelites received on Shavuot?

This Omer period seems like a long, dark tunnel, the end of which is not yet visible. But the end will come. Much will be changed. Much destruction will have been done to human life, public health, and economic infrastructure.

But the end of the plague also augurs the possibility of a liberatory moment, a moment of revelation when we are sprung for the shackles of old. What might this look like? And for what must we prepare?

  • For a day soon when the benefits of healing the earth by avoiding profligate travel and waste are apparent not only in the clear skies of the Corona era but every day. This requires adhering to international climate accords and strengthening, not weakening, our own environmental protection mechanisms in this country.

  • For a day soon when the dangers of an unrestrained capitalist order that has ripped open a vast chasm between rich and poor become evident to all. This will require reversing the second American revolution inaugurated by Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he declared that government is bad and regulation is its chief weapon. The Corona-Zeit has made clear how necessary government and regulation are.

  • For a day soon when fellow Jews no longer stigmatize Haredim with tropes that border on the anti-Semitic. And for day when there is a more robust exchange between Haredim and the world around them that truly expands our understanding of “Klal Yisrael.” Among other effects, this will allow us to focus on the main source of anti-Semitic threat in this country, the white nationalist conspiracy theorists who are hard at work right now.

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  • For an end soon to the stasis and corruption in Israeli political life that have sapped so much life from such a vibrant people. And for a day when Palestinians will be liberated from the burdens of occupation and discrimination — and recognized as equal in worth to Jews. This becomes all the more urgent if the next Israeli government decides to move ahead with a formal act of annexation. Although most legal experts will regard such an act as illegal under international law, Israel will be required to treat all within its realm equally.

David N. Myers holds the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA. He is also the President of the Board of the New Israel Fund.

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