THESE are extraordinary times. Our community, like all Australians, is experiencing the anxiety that comes from completely disrupted lives; the stress of worrying about our jobs, our businesses, our children’s education; and the fear that comes from wanting to protect our children, our parents and ourselves from a global pandemic.
The Jewish community is uniquely close-knit and interconnected. We are also, on average, an older community. This make us particularly vulnerable in such times. But we are also a caring and compassionate community, resilient, responsible and well-prepared. We have experienced everything and survived, and we’ll survive this too.
I am in contact with the presidents of Jewish communities in states and territories across the country and with representatives of schools, synagogues, nursing homes and other communal facilities. Each facility has its own set of challenges and risks and I can assure you that they are all putting in place the best measures they can to get through this and keep us safe. At leadership levels coordination and advisory committees have been set up, are meeting and are assisting to deal with these challenges and risks, and you will hear more about these in subsequent messages.
But all that good work will be undone if we don’t each take the necessary steps to slow the rate of transmission. So can I ask you each to do three things.
1. First of all, keep your distance
You have all heard the term “social distancing”. What does it mean in the context of our community? It means big or multiple-generation Shabbat dinners are over for the time being. Don’t do it. Don’t risk it. That means, this year, unfortunately Pesach seders for our extended families and friends are out. Do small intimate ones with your household only. It means that kids birthday parties are postponed. I know they’ll be sad but it really is for their own good and the good of the community. FaceTime calls with their friends may help. And it means, sadly, no visits to grandma and grandpa by their grandchildren. Skype, FaceTime, call. It will only be for a few months. Do not put the lives of the ones you love at risk because of sentimentality or moments of weakness. We know that those over 65, and some even say over 60, are particularly vulnerable to this virus. We know that soon our hospital system is likely to be at or beyond full capacity. So don’t risk it.
It also means, if your kids are not at school, keep them at home. This is not the time for play-dates or shopping centres or picnic tables. They’ll be bored. They’ll be restless. Let them play, read or watch Netflix, whatever will occupy them. Teenagers may be harder to restrict than little kids but keeping them home is really important.
And if you think young people do not get this virus and you think it only affects the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions, think again. 40% of those hospitalised with coronavirus overseas are between the ages of 20 and 50. Everyone’s actions count.
2. Think of our most vulnerable
While our hospitals and nursing homes have placed strict and appropriate measures in place to protect their residents, there may be hundreds of elderly or those with health conditions living independently who will be frightened, shut off and in need of help. I ask you to think about who that might be and to let us know so that we can get them the help they need. Think of old friends, distant relatives, people in your building. We have had dozens of volunteers come forward ready to help our communal organisations in delivering medicine and groceries or just placing calls to ease the anxiety of our most needy. But we need to identify these people. So please help us do this.
3. Reach out
Finally, if you’re feeling anxious, scared or alone, reach out. We are a community – an extended family. And we will try to help you. You can call 1300 536 728 and we will get you the help you need.
I wish you all strength and comfort in a challenging time. Keep your distance. Be strong. Be generous. And we’ll get through this together.
Jillian Segal is president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the national representative body of the Australian Jewish community.