Brooks: Our history is full of sorrow and salvation. This won’t change us.

The Forward asked Jewish communal leaders to reflect on how the coronavirus pandemic will influence Jewish life. RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks responded with the following essay.

How will the coronavirus outbreak transform Jewish life? I think that’s the wrong question. In our long history we have weathered many storms without being fundamentally changed. We’re still here, as Mark Twain pointed out, after all the great empires of the ancient world were relegated to the history books. We’ve seen it all, from the glittering courts of kings to Auschwitz.

And yet, we Jews remain.

Just during the course of this pandemic, the Jewish community has marked Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Israel’s Independence Day. Our history is replete with suffering and salvation, with loss and hope. This pandemic may cause some long-term changes to the society we live in, but they won’t affect the essence of our community.

Our core values of individual responsibility to G-d, of building family and community, of just laws and free civil society, of confidently looking toward a brighter future – those things will not be changed at all by the pandemic.

In fact, we must double down on them during what appears will be the difficult days to come.

While our family life and communal religious life have been disrupted, we have found new ways of connecting. We will meet the economic effects of the pandemic lockdown with the resilience and tenacity we have always shown. We will support those in need and rebuild what is broken.

Moreover, as a community, we must act on our responsibility as citizens of this great country. One way or another, the 2020 elections will take place. The future of our country depends on who we elect and which ideas and policies will shape our daily lives going forward. We have the ability - and the obligation - to contribute to the preservation of our freedom, and to the prosperity, security, and success of this country.

The Jewish people have come through even the worst times in our history with hope for a better future, and ideas for how to get there. The Jewish community has the creativity, the resourcefulness, and the values that our country and our world will need when we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

The real question is not how the Jewish community will be transformed by the coronavirus outbreak, but rather, how will the Jewish community transform the world after Covid-19?


This article was published by the Forward on May 24, 2020.