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The Blame-Shame Game

Moshe Unger - Columnist
Posted 10/8/20

This past week I received two pieces of feedback for this column. One was from an individual in Florida complimenting my June article about Black Lives Matter. He saw the article shared by Gary …

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The Blame-Shame Game


This past week I received two pieces of feedback for this column. One was from an individual in Florida complimenting my June article about Black Lives Matter. He saw the article shared by Gary Weiss, a journalist who I don't know personally. Weiss highlighted the value of hyper-local media, i.e. the Democrat, saying that he hasn't seen anywhere else the perspective that was discussed here.

On the other hand, I received strong criticism for not addressing non-compliance of Covid restrictions within our community. Had it been up to me, I would have ducked here. If only I can just mind my own business, turn around in bed, and not have to be in the fray of tensions.

However, it seemed to me that the positive feedback was a sign from Above that I need to do this. Also, personally, I owe it to my dear bi-monthly readers, who are trying to understand the complete picture. At the time that we are vilified in the news, I'm sure my readers want to understand what's happening. So here I am, reluctantly addressing this subject.

I want to point out that, ironically, up to this date, virtually all the negative feedback I received over the past three years of writing, came from Jews outside of the Orthodox community. The positive feedback came from Jews and non-Jews alike, the negative, however, were only from Jews. Maybe after this article the demographics will change, but this fact will still be a very interesting social phenomenon.

The story which is happening now is really about professionals and the public believing that the immunity that was achieved in April would protect against a second wave of Covid and it turned out untrue. This will be evident after a review of the facts.

The Orthodox community was hit hard with Covid back in March-April. Even with the majority complying to all regulations, many people contacted the virus before the lockdown and regulations. Sadly, there were many fatalities. We blamed ourselves a lot, as Jews tend to generally do, but that was already after the fact.

By mid-May, the virus passed and there were no cases of Covid throughout June, July, and most of August. Many people tested positive for antibodies and donated plasma. That made us think we achieved herd-immunity. That's why a lot of people were lax with Covid rules during the summer.

Maimonides Hospital reported zero new cases by mid-May. On Monday, August 10 they allowed full visitation like pre-covid before any other hospital in NY. This is a respectable NYC hospital and it is evident that they also believed the virus passed. We worked with the facts.

Also, in May there were many protests throughout New York and still the virus hardly increased, which also gave us a sense of security. These facts made us, professionals and laymen alike, believe that we are past it. Sullivan County was also almost clean of cases during the summer, even with the seasonal community up here.

Now, I agree that it would have been far better and far more sensitive had we worn masks during the summer, even in the Jewish stores. There were states in the nation having hotspots, and we should have been more sensitive to that even with the immunity.

By the end of August and beginning of September, individual mild cases started to be reported in our communities. It raised some alarm, more masks were donned, but still we thought it won't increase because of the immunity that was achieved.

By the last week of September, there were already hundreds of positive cases. The vast majority comply with the rules and masks are everywhere. Only on September 25 did Maimonides Hospital revert to Covid-visitations. This is a strong indicator that until end of September the professionals believed that there is no second wave and no great concern yet.

The immunity is certainly there because this spreading came very slow. I read memos from doctors stating that we see from what's happening in our community that immunity does seem to work. However, herd-immunity hasn't been achieved because this virus will seek out the minority of yet unaffected people.

Back in March, the spreading was instantaneous. Had the amounts of immunity not protected us, it would have spread in days. Maybe the doctors changed their stance with immunity in the last few weeks, so check in before relying on this. Our community is actually an opportunity for study for researchers trying to understand the virus.

By early September, I certainly agree, we should have been much more careful. This is different from the summer when it was more of a sensitivity issue. In September, when cases started appearing, we should have been much quicker to respond. However, a lot could have been done in terms of simple education by the Health Departments even in early September, had there been healthy cooperation.

To add insult to injury, this week we got the Blame-Shame from the governor. He showcased, for everyone to see, that we were non-compliant. He said he is going to meet with the community leaders, however, this phone meeting turned out to be a monologue without any listening to the community leaders.

His approach is wrong and unhelpful. The facts that he laid out is not the full and real story and the blaming and shaming will only alienate cooperation that is so needed now. What would have been simple and productive? A meeting mid-September with these community leaders telling them, “We must get full compliance right now! What can we do together to achieve this asap?”

A simple flyer-drop at every door with the most recent numbers and facts would have made an enormous difference. It could have been distributed overnight had he worked together with Hatzalah and other leaders, who he knows personally. I don't need to help with ideas. A little bit of listening to the leaders would have produced a massive impact.

Am I suggesting the Governor shouldn't do his job? No, not at all. I perfectly understand strict actions, but how can I not hurt and be enraged when, with little effort, these same actions could have been done effectively and respectfully?

Blaming and shaming is wrong even if he would have been 100% right. Law enforcement is not about punishing. If we can't let go of this notion, we will never fix many problems in America, including police brutality.

Law enforcement needs to be sharply focused on the future - to achieve civil conduct in the most efficient way possible. I'm not shirking responsibility from our community, but we, together as citizens, need to be extremely focused on what helps now.

Our community is a community which is very different from the general society, as I'm sure you know. This has many pluses in terms of living together, but at the same time it comes along with its own set of challenges.

Our insularity is a value to us. Simply respecting what is dear to us will make us comply 100%. A little understanding of how difficult this period is for us particularly, will make us comply 100%.

Our leaders are extremely willing to work with the governor and the mayor of New York City. They are the ones who wanted a meeting with the Governor even after being shamed strongly, but they were rebuffed. This attitude should be of great concern to everyone.

If you, my dear reader, believe that I'm totally wrong, be happy and rejoice, because the governor is already punishing us, and the media is already besmirching us. If you believe that there is something to what I'm saying, I hope you'll feel our pain and try to understand the whole picture.

Maybe there is a way that you can help out. I strongly believe that if we get this right, our political system will be in a much better standing and will be on the track to become a beacon of light to each and every one of us.

Comments? Email me: moshe@mosheunger.com.

Moshe Unger is a writer and entrepreneur. His column appears every other Friday in the Democrat.


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