I’ll admit it – I always thought our generation of rabbis had it relatively easy.
Imagine being a rabbi during the chaos of the early 60s. Being jailed in St. Augustine, FL, for the crime of praying with Black community leaders. Or having your life turned upside down for the offense of publicly supporting Civil Rights.
Imagine being a rabbi during the 30s, when the Jewish community was deeply fractured over the issue of Zionism in the face of growing Nazi threats. A time when your career could hang in the balance, depending on your public stance about Israel.
Or for a thousand years in Europe, when communities were regularly expelled, oppressed, attacked or killed. When rabbis were asked to hold people together in the face of horror.
Our American Jewish community over the last 30 years has been remarkably safe and successful. Sure, there are always challenges, and I don’t mean to downplay the grim nature of antisemitism at home and abroad. But we have been blessed to live at a time when our community is thriving, and when the old joke about two Jews and three opinions has been, well, a joke.
Last week, our Board of Trustees at Temple Beth El had a rigorous discussion about the idea of implementing a vaccine requirement. It was, honestly, one of the best conversations we’ve had amongst our Board — in part, because there were passionate and divergent opinions. Ultimately, the Board approved a temporary requirement for any adult (18+) to be fully vaccinated in order to attend Shabbat services at Temple.
We take for granted that vaccination is a controversial, political topic. But it shouldn’t be. For reasons that I have a hard time understanding, our society has become radically polarized around this and related issues, such as wearing masks. Nobody likes Covid. Nobody wants to be quarantined or isolated. Nobody wants to miss out on family vacations or important life cycle moments or the simple pleasures of dinner out or a hug when you bump into a friend.
Vaccinations are not the enemy. Masks are not the enemy. Covid is the enemy, and unlike the Spanish Flu in 1918 — or Cholera in the 18th century or even the Black Death in the Middle Ages — we have the modern, scientific tools to fight our way out of this pandemic.
Our Board – based on the wise and steady guidance of our Medical Advisory Panel – believes that (1) requiring vaccination will make us safer, (2) requiring vaccination will help people feel more comfortable about coming back to Temple, and (3) requiring vaccination is the right thing to do.
People can quibble — and already have — with any and all of those points. In fact, some of the smartest and most thoughtful people I know (and who are not anti-vaxxers, by the way) have argued forcefully against the policy. And I would agree that nothing here is black and white. There is no magic wand when it comes to Covid.
More fundamental, to me, is the simple fact that Jewish tradition offers a number of clear and consistent messages. One of them is that our role, as human beings and as God’s partners, is to act in the world. When we see injustice, when we see evil, when we see suffering, when we see despair … it is not merely an option, but an obligation to do something about it. And in this case, it would be neglectful for us to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
I am proud of our Temple for taking this step, and I humbly welcome thoughtful conversation about the pros and cons of our decision. At the same time, I pray that this issue will not continue to tear us apart — either as a Jewish community or as an American society.
We have come too far and endured too much to succumb to the painful sort of infighting that has harmed us in the past. Let us walk into 2022 as the caring, supportive, unified community that we have the capacity to be.