On March 4, 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to the nation after taking the oath of office as president.
When FDR stood supported by his steel leg braces on that gray noon, he proclaimed a sentence that has since been echoed for decades by politicians and others during trying times:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Those heartening words helped millions of suffering Americans feel that a silver lining existed amid dark clouds of despair and depression, both personal and financial. Such can-do spirit became the mantra of what came to be called the Greatest Generation. They pushed back against the Depression, then mobilized with our Allies to utterly defeat Adolf Hitler and his Axis.
As the local, national and global struggle against the coronavirus continues, those lessons have a lot to teach us. With more tests uncovering more cases of the virus every day, and with millions of people confined to their homes to stop the illness’ spread, fear and uncertainty prevail. But even as we admit we are afraid, we also have to recognize that fear itself can be debilitating, and we cannot give in to it.
This is not a drill, or a real-life remake of the movie “Contagion.” This is a deadly disease that has already claimed thousands of lives. We must listen to health experts and do whatever is necessary to make sure we have enough hospital beds, test kits, ventilators and personnel to meet the crisis head on.
Sadly, at the very time we need to be strong and support each other, we also have to obey the physical social distancing stressed by the medical community. Harsh reality makes it impossible to visit loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes. The lives of parents and children, students and teachers, merchants and customers, have been disrupted as never before.
The local Jewish community has pitched in to ease the pain of the crisis while at the same time recognizing the seriousness of the crisis and respecting advice from health care professionals. Classes are being taught online or over the phone. Services are being viewed via livestreams. Meetings to help plan responses to the virus are being held via conference call. The Jewish Federation is mobilizing donors at all levels to help ease this existential threat. To that end, Federation has created a Community Response Fund to meet the needs of the community created by the pandemic (read more about the fund on page 5).
In a compelling message to the Jewish community last weekend, the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association expressed empathy for families who have had to cancel or scale back celebrations or funerals for loved ones. The message (read the full letter at right) said: “Our hearts go out to those members of our community who are ill, and those who are afraid. We ache for those who have had to reschedule simchas, and for those who are mourning without the support of loved ones around them. …
“We know that there are aspects of this sickness that are out of our hands. But we also know, both from history found even in the Torah and from examples around the world today, that there is a way to halt the spread of this virus. So we are taking it upon ourselves to ask that tonight, when Shabbat ends … that it doesn’t end.That for each of us who is able, we keep this time of rest going. Stay home. Cancel the sleepovers and create virtual playdates. Be with loved ones who live with you, and pick up the phone to call those who don’t, or send a text or email. Let everything else stop, and as much as possible, let’s keep Shabbat going.”
The St. Louis Jewish Light will continue to provide the very latest news and analysis throughout this crisis, in print and online. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. In time, they will not only get better but will be resolved, and we will be a stronger nation and Jewish community when the sunshine of hope replaces the storm clouds of fear itself.
Stay strong. Stay safe.