|Touro Synagogue - original symbol of religious freedom (flickr)|
Those of us that are fully vaccinated can feel relatively comfortable about being around others. And by fully vaccinated I mean getting a booster shot if our original ‘double shots’ took place more than six months ago. I am personally looking forward to getting together with friends in Detroit later today and over the holiday weekend.
But it ain’t over. COVID is still with us. There is in fact currently a spike in COVID infections all over the country. As there is in hospitalizations and deaths. The good news is that for those of us that are fully vaccinated - the vast majority hospitalizations and death are among people that have not been vaccinated. Or have underlying health conditions if they are. It is also true that for those of us that have had the booster shots recently, the likelihood of testing positive at all is significantly reduced – although still possible. In the unlikely event that we do test positive most of us will be asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms.
So why is COVID still around? Why the spike? Because of the highly contagious nature the Delta variant. COVID is being spread quickly. Those of us that are vaccinated can still get the virus and be unaware of it. And then spread it to others. Those of us that are unvaccinated will spread it even more widely and in greater number. Some of whom may get very sick themselves.
The refusal to get vaccinated is what’s driving this pandemic. It allows a greater degree of spread and a greater number of serious illness and death. The argument made by the vaccine refusers is that they have a right to treat their own bodies as they wish. But that argument falls flat when you consider the consquences to others. The fact that COVID can be asymptomatic means that it can be spread unknowingly. They think they are virus free. But they are not. If someone like that visits an elderly grandparent, for example, who may also have a serious underlying conditions, he may as well take a shotgun and shoot them during the visit. That would be a for more merciful death than dying from COVID.
If on the other hand they are fully vaccinated, the chances of infecting an elderly person with an underlying condition is significantly reduced making such a visit far less dangerous.
None of this is new. But as the pandemic refuses to go away, it is important to remind everyone how valuable getting vaccinated is. And how selfish it is not to get vaccinated.
It should also be noted that even for those of us that are fully vaccinated that we practice additional precautions when we can. In large indoor crowds, wearing a mask provides additional protection for both the wearer and the people around them. And perhaps more importantly one should to be as socially distant as possible – which is an even better way to protect oneself and others from infection. The further away the better.
But at least this year those of us that are fully vaccinated can finally get together with loved ones in relative safety - which hasn’t been the case in over a year due to COVID.
It is with this in mind that I urge all of us to participate in this national holiday. There is no better occasion than Thanksgiving to express our Hakoras HaTov – our gratitude – to this great nation for the privilege living our lives freely as fully observant Jews without fear of retribution. A country that celebrates diversity which has – with few exceptions - welcomed us with open arms since its very founding. And continues to do so. As noted by George Washington in a famous letter to Hebrew Congregation (Touro) in 1790 - sixteen months after he became President:
For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support...
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Those who think Thanksgiving is Chukas Hagoy – a Torah concept that forbids following non Jewish customs are wrong in my view. This concept does not apply to things which are not conducive to idol worship.
But they are free to not celebrate if they wish. Free country. They can ‘take a knee’. In my view for American Jews this is wrongheaded and lacks appreciation. You don’t have to eat turkey. But you should recognize what this great country is all about on this day.
I love this country. I really do.
Thank You America - and Happy Thanksgiving to all.