Thoughts in Corona Isolation 1: Lessons From The Holocaust

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin

First In A Series
A few days ago I emailed my doctor. I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I was due to attend the wedding of the youngest son of my next door neighbor. I asked my primary care physician if I could attend, given that so many communities were introducing restrictions, and also given my age, 67, and my underlying heart and other health conditions. He called me back personally in a flash and instructed me not to leave home under any circumstances until further notice. He told me he shut his local Brooklyn office indefinitely and that this past Shabbos the entire Far Rockaway area he lives in shut its Shulls and Yeshivas. So now I am confined to home and I am left with my thoughts and the ability to put “pen to paper” which I am now sharing with you.
I have been thinking for a while about the Corona virus crisis and what we can learn from it, that as we all know started in the city of Wuhan in China sometime in December 2019. But when I try to understand just how the current virus crisis started I find that there is hardly any focus on that question now. We have all heard the stories about how the virus came to attack humans in Wuhan after they ate bats (via ant-eaters!), or rats, or snakes or maybe dogs, (do they eat all this stuff with or without egg rolls, or in egg rolls??) all very odd “Chinese food”. And then there are the rumors and theories that the virus escaped from a high security bio-lab that does exist in Wuhan that infected locals and spread afar.
No one seems to know for sure. If you do a little research and Google the question “how did the Corona virus start” you get a variety of answers that reflect more the world view of the one giving the opinion than any objective truth. After all, in our times of the “relativity of truth” every scientist or theologian for that matter is convinced they have the monopoly on the truth.
So online you’ll find views that the virus “just happened” due to natural selection, mutation, splicing in a lab, evolution, animal borne diseases, climate change, government neglect, and all sorts of theories, just take your pick. The general trend though has been to exonerate China, because in the beginning it was called the Wuhan virus, but the Chinese government didn’t like that name, so they pushed the World Health Organization to rename it Covid 19 or whatever.
The crisis impacted me personally because for the past two years I have volunteered my time at the New York Holocaust Museum, located in Downtown Manhattan, it’s the 3rd largest in the world after Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I specialize in leading tours of students from Yeshivos, Bais Yaakovs girls’ schools, and Jewish Day Schools of which there are plenty in the New York City metro area. The museum is currently hosting a major groundbreaking exhibit about the Auschwitz death camp.
In the course of my life as a Jewish Educator I have done most things. Taught at Jewish Day Schools, lectured on college campuses, Kiruv outreach for Jewish adults in Manhattan, taught crash courses in Hebrew and Judaism etc. But now I am able to focus on what I call “Positive Holocaust Education” since as the child of Holocaust survivors and having written my MA Thesis at Teachers College, Columbia University on “The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy” which I published online, the subject of the Holocaust is close to me in a very, very personal way.
Towards the end of every tour at the museum, in a section called “Persistence and Resistance” I stress to the students that they need to see the larger picture, that Jews were not just victims but where they were allowed to join the armies of the Allies they fought back and were VICTORIOUS. There were over half a million Jews in the American armed forces and at least half a million Jews fought in the Russian army, plus the Jewish soldiers in the British, Canadian, Australian, South African armies. From them would come many who fought for the establishment of Israel in 1948. And then the 6 million Jews who were murdered who themselves who are not mere “victims” but are regarded as KEDOSHIM “Holy Ones” in Judaism because they died Al Kiddush HaShem, for the Sanctification of the Name of God!
So now for me personally, that avenue of expression and interaction with students is temporarily closed as major institutions in New York City and across America and the world have been shut down to fight the Corona virus.
There is a lesson to be learned by everyone though. I mentioned to someone at the museum that the Corona virus is starting to remind me a little bit of the Holocaust, on a reduced scale of course. And it must be confronted just like the Holocaust, with fortitude, with a mental attitude of resistance, and finally for believing Jews with Kiddush HaShem, each to their own level.
People are scrambling for food and toilet paper in supermarkets. They are starting to empty banks of cash. Billionaires are running to “safety” in their doomsday shelters, ordinary citizens are panicking, many are under some degree of curfew now. It’s so easy to lose sight of the basics of Jewish Life and Faith. I am trying to live by that too, now that I am in isolation.