I suppose it is a little late to urge people to take up paper-and-pen or use a computer (which is what I did, for once) to chronicle the days of the Coronavirus Pandemic. I suppose mine–begun in 2020–will be of little use in the immediate future. Yet I urge people to write about the experience in memoirs form if nothing else. Why? Because like the Plague in Europe or Influenza worldwide before COVID-19, it is a memorable if bitter experience that we are sharing. I am reminded of a Medieval picture I saw of Jesus on the Cross, suffering from each of a number of diseases, including plague. Under the picture it said, “God, How Long?” because there is a strain of Christianity which when things are at their worst start looking for signs of Jesus’ return–similarly, there are Jews in such situation who start looking for one “though he may tarry, yet he will come,” the Mashiach.
I used to read these words in times of sorrow as a kid, and a fundamentalist Christian,
[H]e hath no form nor comeliness;
and when we shall see him,
there is no beauty that we shall desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men:
a man of sorrows,
and acquainted with grief:
and we hid as it were our face from him:
he was despised and we esteemed him not.
Surely, he hath borne our griefs,
and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him:
and with his strips we were healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned everyone to his own way;
and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Christians interpret this as being about Jesus; Jews the Jewish people as a whole. I read in Jon Levenson’s Inheriting Abraham that the Medieval Jew took suffering as a sign of chosenness rather than punishment. I have found comfort in this teaching in my life; I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder, and I see my suffering in the “Suffering Servant Psalm” (the above is part of it) in Isaiah. I know this sounds sanctimonious to people; “suffering for God” when you live in a land of religious tolerance. I know at times in my life it would have sounded worse: I did not exactly live a saint’s life in Middle School, High School or even College. Yet I believe that even then, God lived in me.
I remember studying Hinduism, the thing I liked about it philosophically is that the True Self is a part of God. By meditating (I’ve never figured meditation out, so lets say through prayers) a person can reach that part of herself which is also God. Truthfully, there are many things I admire about Hinduism: its creative mythology, its artistic and architectural achievements; and its philosophy. Yet I don’t believe even if I truly loved it the way I do Judaism, I could convert: the problem of caste bothers me too profoundly. If I had grown up Hindu, I might feel differently, but as an outsider caste seems to cruel to explain… I know people feel that way about certain Jewish teachings, but I try to explain that to me they misunderstand the deep compassion of the Jewish God.