A Rabbi’s Message on Coping With Covid
Loneliness pretty much sums up 2020. There are so many people who have not hugged someone, or given a handshake, since last March. Humans need human interaction. We are social beings. Shortly before the pandemic, my wife and I moved into a new community with no family. We have been married for three years and have begun our journey to build our family. Unfortunately, our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 12 weeks. Thank G-d, our second pregnancy ended with our healthy baby, despite being six-and-a-half weeks premature and born at only 3.3 lbs.
Alone together, my wife and I began our second miscarriage shortly before Yom Kippur of 2020. Not only was the potential life in question, but our doctor, in this new place, spoke about the possible endangerment of my wife’s life. Because of this, my wife needed to return to her doctor for more testing, even on Yom Kippur. Beyond the changes Yom Kippur in synagogue required by 2020, our Yom Kippur took a quick turn for the worse. Because of Covid, my wife had to go to her doctor alone, as I was not allowed to accompany her. Lamentably, we lost the baby; however my wife, Praise G-d, was and is healthy.
The verses from Psalms 130 really resonated with me this Yom Kippur as I davened home alone; “’שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ ה’” “Out of the depths I call out to G-d.” As I said these words, I noticed the use of the Tetragrammaton to refer to G-d. The Tetragrammaton is a fascinating name of G-d, as it reminds and reassures us that G-d is beyond time. This name is a compound word of past, present, and future in Hebrew — היה הווה יהיה. For us, this was comforting, to an extent, as we understood that we can be in the dark, and yet, at the same time, know everything happens for a reason.
This is just one story during these challenging times. One of the things I have noticed and experienced is the lack of attention to mental health. While we are so obsessed about the medical research and latest ways to prevent Covid transmission, we often forget the need for social interaction. Yes, we need to take precautions and be safe, and that is exceptionally important. However, there is a way to treat both physical and mental health needs.
This all serves as a reminder that you never know what is going on in another’s personal life. As Jews, we are obligated to give the benefit of the doubt, as the Torah says in Leviticus 19:15 “With righteousness shall you judge your fellow fairly. “לֹא־תַעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֙וֶל֙ בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹא־תִשָּׂ֣א פְנֵי־דָ֔ל וְלֹ֥א תֶהְדַּ֖ר פְּנֵ֣י גָד֑וֹל בְּצֶ֖דֶק תִּשְׁפֹּ֥ט עֲמִיתֶֽךָ.” Something that my parents taught me growing up is that G-d judges you the way you judge others.
There have been many initiatives which have helped us to “give back” to the community financially. But that’s not enough these days. So I would like to share a unique project that I hope will inspire you.
There is a rabbinic couple who are modeling the power of giving as they travel the United States by RV on a journey, or nesiya, to better understand and support the distinct needs of local communities while meeting heroes of everyday life. They aren’t just doing this through tzedaka, monetary needs, but they are placing a strong emphasis on visiting people (from a safe distance and with precautions).
Additionally, the way they go about their tzedaka is very much in lines of the Jewish value of human dignity, Kibud HaBriot. Kibud HaBriot is so important in Judaism that throughout the Talmud, it overrules various other commandments. The couple I mentioned, Rabbi and Mindy Glickman, are echoing these values by becoming members of synagogues along their journey and supporting local stores and venues when they visit small Jewish communities which have been so deeply affected by Covid.
It’s time to wake up and realize the great need for attention to everyone’s mental health. As a mental health professional myself, I can anecdotally say that we can see such an impact on our clients’ mental health. Ask any mental health worker, and they can tell you the real impact of this pandemic. The statistics and studies have not come out yet, as the pandemic is still fresh — but we can all see its effects. So please, send flowers to a loved one to show you care, make a visit (from a distance) to an elderly relative, reach out to someone who is single and ask how they are doing. The pandemic is rough, but together we can make it better for each other.
Rabbi Jonah Coffey-Keyak is a social worker, marriage counselor, and chaplain for World Mizrahi and others. He is based in Memphis.