My View

Living together and living apart

By RABBI LAWRENCE S. ZIERLER
Posted 3/18/20

As we consider the disruption and dislocation to our lives, livelihoods, emotional stability and, last but not least, our individual well-being, it might help as a diversion from the angst to look …

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My View

Living together and living apart

Posted

As we consider the disruption and dislocation to our lives, livelihoods, emotional stability and, last but not least, our individual well-being, it might help as a diversion from the angst to look ahead at what a recovered world could look like once the COVID-19 pandemic abates and is ultimately suppressed.

Understandably, the correct path in our crisis mode is an abundance of caution, involving social distancing and other sanitary safeguards. But in better times, the opposite can be true. Some, myself included, celebrate the virtues of social capital, the wealth of human talents that can be shared and paired without a financial cost to the beneficiaries. I like to call this phenomenon of interconnectedness as our “assets in association.”

Membership in life and society, group involvement and religious associations—particularly at the local level—carry untold benefits and salutary effects for our cities and neighborhoods. I take it down to this basic level as I strongly believe in the power of community in the lived experiences of our daily lives.

Sadly, in all too many places, towns and villages, along with smaller cities, have seen an atomization of their populations. Urban sprawl has given way to the kind of “social distancing” we need not have.

The loss of Main Street to the eruption of the big box stores and category killers has robbed us of reliable resources, seasoned and reasoned merchants, positive purchasing and consumer confidence. Local merchants used to live in and invest in their communities. The Rabbis of the Talmud (Tractate Baba Batra) state in Aramaic, but cited here in translation, that “a friend has a friend who has a friend.” In short, relationships matter and fuel a community’s social capital gains.

Well before COVID-19 we were witnessing an ongoing fracture in society, alienation and removal from the mainstream and the wrong kind of white picketed fences. Emotional and social distancing had taken root albeit a matter of choice and proclivity.

Today we find ourselves in an involuntary situation of quarantine and social distance; we are beset by worry for our health and well-being as this virulent strain tugs at our hearts and heads. Suddenly we can appreciate the value of freedom of movement and the average workday. We are maddened by the great uncertainties and evident inefficiencies associated with this scourge and its management.

The above are so many questions that thus far evade reliable responses. But the plague will pass, and opportunity will look us straight in the face. Will we realize what we have emerged from and set forth a renewed agenda of social responsibility and interconnectedness? Will we commit to our neighbors and their businesses?

In short, in the wake of our current climate of social distancing, after the storm disappears, the possibility will exist to invite and accept the calming ripples of social capital increased, of a society that is engaged and positively enmeshed. Let us hope that we will arise from the wreckage of this crisis, less bruised and more encouraged by what we will build together, in good health and good cheer.

Rabbi Lawrence S. Zierler is the president and CEO of Sayva Associates, an elder-care practice based in Sullivan County. He has served as a pulpit rabbi, hospital and hospice chaplain, Jewish educator and communal executive.

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