OP-ED: A year like no other
By ALAN SMASON
When Rosh Hashanah 5780 arrived last year, there was little indication that our world would be so throughly upended as it was.
Continued progress in the business and financial sectors was evident as unemployment was down to historic low levels and commerce seemed to be making a comeback from the starts and stops of the Trump Era tariffs.
There was less talk about building walls and fewer scenes of immigrant children being separated from their parents by INS agents. Congress and the President seemed well on their way to a historic showdown between the Legislative and Executive branches as the “i-word” began being bandied about.
While there was an obvious uptick in anti-Semitic cases worldwide, we were lulled into a false sense of security because exactly 10 days later – on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – a lone gunman staged an aborted assault on a German synagogue in Halle, an attack live streamed over the internet which showed us that the domestic hate of Pittsburgh and Poway was still very evident in the outside world around us.
But the biggest attack to our nation came not from the threat of a gun, a bomb or even a ramming attack. No, the culprit was a micron-sized virus that reportedly emanated from China in an open-air wet market where species of bats and other animals used as food created an airborne agent that was impossible to see and long-lived so as to make its spread difficult to contain.
The novel coronavirus that led to the deadly COVID-19 disease at first began to kill hundreds in Wuhan before the imposition of martial law shut down its economy and eventually stopped the spread. But by then strains of the virus had hopscotched across Spain, Italy and over all of Europe, even making it all the way down under to Australia and to our brethren in Israel. Carried through aircraft and spread through handshakes and hugs to unknowing recipients, health officials worldwide were caught unprepared for what scientists had long predicted – a deadly pandemic that has today claimed the lives of nearly 200,000 Americans and claimed almost one million victims worldwide.
Yes, no one could have predicted last Rosh Hashanah that most of us would be unable or unwilling to gather together in prayer for this year’s services or that many of us would be doing virtually from the sanctity of our own self-imposed quarantines. In the past we might zoom to our synagogues or temples in a car or other vehicle.
Today, many of us use Zoom as a vehicle to get us to synagogues and temples.
The suffocation death of George Floyd and the shooting deaths of Armaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor – all Black – all at the hands of police officers charged with the protection of citizens, triggered some of the most massive and violent protests of our nation’s history and elevated the Black Lives Matter movement to the front pages of America. The confrontation by the disenfranchised due to systemic racism will continue to haunt us as we move forward into the next year.
While we work our way through the current health crisis and its dire financial devastation brought about by layoffs, furloughs and business shutdowns, we do have cause to be thankful and to give praise for some good things.
First of all, it would appear the restaurant business, while hurting, may be back up and running soon. The hotel and tourist industry in general is still reeling from the lack of visitors to the city.
But three recent visitors to other venues could have made an already bad situation even worse. Had Hurricanes Sally, Laura or Marco come closer to New Orleans or overstayed their visits, we would have thought 5780 was even more spectacularly worse.
As we say good riddance to 5780 and say hello to 5781, it reminds me of what a favorite uncle once told me. “I wouldn’t say you’re pretty and I wouldn’t say you’re ugly,” he said. “I guess I’d say you’re pretty ugly.”
So, remember: Wash your hands. Socially distance. Use hand sanitizer. Wear a mask. And…
L’Shana Tovah Tikatevu! (May you be inscribed for a good and sweet year.)