Covid-19 Shows We Have Choices

By Aaren Alpert, Rae Janvey, Faith Leener, Rebecca Neuwirth,
Judith Rosenbaum, PhD, Hallie Shapiro Devir, and Rebecca Voorwinde

We are a small circle of Jewish women who have met periodically over the last two years. Throughout the time, we have found strength and deep peace in honest sharing of the ups and downs of life, in rearticulating our hopes and aspirations for the world we want to see and know can be real, and fortitude in the practice of connection and meditation as we try to do the part we know is possible in making that a reality. The circle, led by Rae Janvey, has never been more meaningful than in these last weeks, and it has helped us to see our current situation with a second lens and understand the choices that have become strikingly clear.

For a country based on deep individualism and winner take all competition, it’s been nothing short of astounding to see the broad consensus so quickly emerging around taking extreme precautions for the sake of others.

Besides the progress of COVID-19 itself and its tremendous human toll – the most important meta-story is the reaction of society to this threat. In the vacuum created by a dearth of trusted national leadership, people have assumed responsibility in a way that is incredible and noteworthy.

As women involved in building positive societal change, we are struck by the sudden mandate to look out for each other that has emerged. And we think it’s worth naming and recognizing. Perhaps it holds the key to getting us out of this crisis in the end.

The measures we are taking were literally unimaginable just days ago. And yet – there has been no violence to speak of and few cases of people taking advantage of this moment to cheat or steal. The big story here is not that some people in Miami still partied until it was outlawed, or that fear has compelled a run on flour and toilet paper, or even that people feel more afraid of each other; these are sad but fundamentally understandable. But the real story, the overwhelming story – is that the vast majority of Americans are upending their way of life to protect the elderly, the immunocompromised, and to try their best to shield our health care system and workers.

We are great believers in leadership – and this global pandemic shows as nothing else in our lifetimes how interconnected we really are; the vital importance of cross border coordination; and the limits of profit as the ultimate arbiter of decisions.

But while our top brass has failed to get it right – we are seeing real leadership from below and it is a sight to behold.

We are seeing:

  • Efforts to reach out on every medium and strengthen human connections because we need each other – our own women’s circle has grown tighter and meaningful beyond what we could have imagined
  • A realization that no one is safe no matter their status, and the corresponding outpouring of concern for those who are laid off and afraid
  • The resolve of our healthcare workers, many volunteers, who are trying to keep us safe and the quiet unheralded bravery of the many people who are working to keep the supply chain running
  • The determination to humanize technology, so long in coming, rather than to be dehumanized and isolated by our computers and phones
  • The proliferation of classes, children’s activities, art, jokes and wisdom shared – a nod to the power of creativity and community in times of existential unease
  • The need to cook and to clean has us remembering how to rely on ourselves, and when we are in families – it is forcing us to depend on each other
  • The dawning awe of nature, the clean rivers, the coming of spring – a force that rejuvenates in spite of human travails
  • And the sudden quiet, the experience of slowing down, the inescapable reminder of how unimportant so much is that normally consumes us and a sense of what might take its place if we allowed.

We’d welcome you to take a moment and add to this list yourself. A new normal opens the chance to see ourselves more clearly and to recognize the decisions we are making every day whether we realize it or not.

Of course, as panic spreads, so do some of our worst instincts, driven by the belief that we need to fight to get our share at the expense of others. This is clear in companies and institutions laying off the most vulnerable, in the scapegoating of immigrants, in policies and solutions that leave entire groups out cold.

But this moment has shown that something else is also possible – that we are all connected one to the other for good and for bad, and that it is possible to rise to the occasion with strength and deep care.

The economy is the sum of all the decisions of all the people. We will make the decisions about what happens next in a month or six months – each of us, and all of us together as we elect leaders, approve budgets and return to organizations and companies we know. There is no way that this situation is predestined to end.

We might want to take a good look at this new set of behaviors and the different path it would suggest that is manifestly possible. So then, when the time comes, we know we have a decision to make.

Aaren Alpert
Rae Janvey
Faith Leener
Rebecca Neuwirth
Judith Rosenbaum, PhD
Hallie Shapiro Devir
Rebecca Voorwinde