I must admit that when the organizers from the Sant'Egidio community asked me to participate in this panel "Living Together - Lessons from the Pandemic", I hesitated. After all, in the last two years, each of us has heard so much about the Covid 19 virus, from every aspect - from doctors, experts, scientists, celebrities and TV stars - I thought to myself, what else is there to say that has not already been said.
Yet, on second thought, I decided that maybe we really should clarify some basic and important points for ourselves, and lessons that we learned during the Corona pandemic, which could affect future crises that could harm the health and well-being of the world.
I could not refuse the request of the good and important friends from the community of Sant'Egidio, since this conference, by its very existence, expresses our common desire, to bring about, through dialogue and learning, a better world, without sickness, crisis, violence and war.
I do not intend to refer to any specific professional, medical or scientific field, but if we look back at the history of past epidemics throughout the world, we understand how correct and important the global treatment of the Covid 19 pandemic was, and that it undoubtedly saved many millions from death.
Let's take just 2 examples: During the Black Death epidemic, which struck North Africa, Asia, and Europe in the years 1347-1351, it is estimated that at least 75 million people died (and the numbers were probably much higher). In China alone there were about 35 million deaths.
And more recently, from 1918-1920, between 25-50 million people died from the Spanish Flu, with about 500 million more infected.
What was different about this pandemic? Although estimates speak of more than 660 million people who were infected, "only" (in quotation marks) about 6.5 million people died of Covid-19. Of course, there is no doubt that we are deeply saddened by the loss of any life. As our Talmudic sources say, the whole world and all its inhabitants were created from a single person, Adam. To teach us that if anyone harms or kills another person, it is as if he killed an entire world, and if anyone saves one soul, it is as if he saved a whole world.
There is no doubt that modern medicine has made amazing progress, and offers medical solutions that in the past could not even be imagined.
But how did modern medicine manage to find cures for the Covid 19 virus so relatively quickly? And how did the medical establishment develop the effective treatments that saved the lives of so many people?
If we analyze the actions taken, they can be divided into four circles:
The first circle - the global and international circle.
The second circle - the world scientists and pharmaceutical companies.
The third circle - the circle of different countries.
The fourth circle - the community and social circle.
Let me elaborate:
In the first circle - There is no doubt that we have not witnessed for many years such impressive collaboration among global bodies. Over a very short period of time, many of the world's leaders realized that if they did not deal with the pandemic with determination and with all the means at their disposal, the results would be extremely serious and would harm all people, regardless of origin, religion, gender or age.
Indeed, the cooperation between world leaders, their ministries of health, national institutions and the UN was unprecedented. The willingness to allocate huge resources to scientists from various disciplines, without the usual bureaucracy, was revolutionary.
Countries were willing to help and transfer life-saving devices, such as ECMO machines, to countries where the epidemic was spreading rapidly.
It should be noted, unfortunately, that despite the tremendous global effort, poor countries that could not purchase the essential devices or vaccines were still severely affected. We must find ways to correct situations like this in the future.
The second circle - The world scientists and the pharmaceutical companies made a supreme effort, working around the clock to find a cure and produce a vaccine for Covid-19. In every country where there were medical technological capabilities, every possible experiment was conducted, and the resulting information was shared. Budgets allocated to the scientists, almost without limit, helped to speed up the work to finding a solution. Western and Russian pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, Merck, Chemrar, the Israel Weizmann institute and others, joined the common effort, while the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approves new drugs for use, greatly accelerated the mandatory tests, to issue early approval for the new drugs.
Similarly, recommended procedures, such as wearing masks, preventing public gatherings, making reliable tests for detecting the virus and making vaccinations available, were issued by countries all over the world, which greatly helped reduce morbidity.
The willingness of electronic and printed media to spread the directives of the various ministries of health also greatly helped in eradicating the Corona virus.
The third circle is the national circle in the various countries. There were definitely differences among countries in their ability to respond to the crisis, investing funds to fight Covid-19 and purchasing vaccines. Moreover, there were many differences between countries in their willingness to enforce restrictions, such as wearing masks, banning public gatherings, and controlling international air and sea travelers.
I should mention here the great damage caused by extremists - "experts in their own eyes" - who, contrary to all the evidence compiled, claimed that Covid 19 was nothing more serious than a normal flu. Ignoring the mass of data and statistics, they spread FAKE NEWS and claimed that the vaccines were a conspiracy, that caused only harm and called on people not to be vaccinated. Unfortunately, many of those who listened to their advice died.
The fourth circle, the smallest, yet perhaps the most important, is the community and social circle. Here, it was clearly proven that in communities and societies that practiced mutual responsibility, love and concern for others, charity and kindness developed, and the lives of many of the elderly, the lonely and people in need of help were saved. People who checked on their neighbors daily, social activists who made sure to bring food, medicine and medical assistance to the needy were directly responsible for saving lives.
In Judaism, mutual responsibility and concern for the various circles is a central and main motif.
Just a week ago, we celebrated Sukkot (the Festival of Tabernacles), one of the most important religious festivals in the Jewish calendar. When the Temple existed, special ceremonies and offerings were brought to Jerusalem and the people prayed and asked for peace and the well-being for the entire world. The festival marks the beginning of the rainy season, so prayers are offered that rain will fall in every country and provide food and livelihood for all the inhabitants. On an individual level, the teaching of "love your neighbor as yourself”, is an important tenet in the Torah, teaching us that every person is created in God's image.
Because of these basic Jewish principles, during the Corona period, in Israel and the Jewish world, there were wonderful manifestations of helping the needy, the lonely and the sick, sometimes even at significant self-risk to the many activists who offered help. (It should be noted that the epidemic is still not completely over, and it is important to continue to be use caution.)
If I go back to the beginning of my remarks, it is now completely clear why the community of Sant'Egidio chose this topic for discussion. I am not sure that everyone sitting here is aware of all the activities of helping and caring for others, which the community, out of great love and responsibility, does throughout the year. All members of the Sant'Egidio community work entirely voluntarily. The community does not hesitate to send volunteers to help with epidemics such as HIV in Africa, or to war zones to bring peace between warring parties, despite the risk posed to the volunteers.
Only with modesty and humility can the world begin to understand the nothingness of man compared to the greatness of God and His creation. A caring and joint effort within the various circles, radiating from the universal level to the individual level is required. At the same time, the personal example of volunteers and social activists in the field, will influence each of the circles and result in cooperation that will save millions of lives, and keep evil and the fear of epidemics and wars far away.
When the desire for reconciliation, understanding and peace are at the forefront, we all benefit from a better world, in which every man helps his neighbor. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”