God, Liberation, and Covid-19

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Escaping isolation, I take a socially distanced walk on a remote, blossom-sweetened wooded trail. It’s Day 39 of the Covid-19 pandemic, and just hours before my family’s Zoom Seder, when we will commemorate our ancestors’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. I don headphones, turn on Aretha Franklin, and hear the first notes of “Rescue Me.” How timely.

The Haggadah describes the 10 plagues that God rained upon Pharaoh to win the Israelites’ freedom. Today, coronavirus imprisons the globe. And yet, even within the confines of the pandemic, some of us are freer than others.

Trapped though I feel at home, barred from work and friends, unable, albeit temporarily, to earn my freelancer’s living, I at least have the means with which to socially distance and protect my health: My husband has income. We have a home, and nutritious food. What’s more, when this plague ends, so will our imprisonment.

Not so others.

Indeed, rather than democratizing society by subjecting everyone equally to its potential deadliness, coronavirus is taking sharp aim at those with underlying medical conditions — diabetes, asthma, hypertension, heart disease — and those most likely to have them: African Americans and Hispanics, the poor, and the elderly. Within these populations there are even more marginalized people: physically or mentally disabled individuals, undocumented immigrants or refugees, people with substance dependency, incarcerated men and women, victims of sexual trafficking, and of interpersonal and domestic violence.

Coronavirus has magnified some of our country’s most serious inequalities and inequities. What’s worse: the racial, ethnic, social and economic barriers that increase people’s vulnerability to Covid-19 create personal prisons that will remain long after the pandemic ends.

The God I believe in did not invent coronavirus any more than She caused or ended my people’s enslavement in Egypt. For me She is, as Abraham Joshua Heschel describes, “not in things of space, but in moments of time.” This moment of Covid-19 is our opportunity to see, understand and take responsibility for the many ways in which we must repair the world.

Public health writer/editor and author of the memoir, “Salt on a Robin’s Tail: An Unlikely Jewish Journey Through Childhood, Forgiveness, and Hope.”

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