Updated: Jun 29, 2020
By Rabbi Haviva Ner-David
If we can recognize one another’s humanity, heal our own sacred inner wounds ... that is when the world will be repaired.
As I was falling asleep the night of March 15, 2020, COVID-19 lay heavy on my heart. Reports were coming in that schools were closing. The number of people ill with the virus in Israel was rising quickly, and it sounded as if within days the whole country would be shutting down. I am in the high risk category for this virus, as my breathing is compromised by my FSHD (the name of my genetic degenerative muscular disorder), so the thought of catching the virus was scary, but so was the thought of my life being turned upside down.
As a Jew who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s in a tight-knit Orthodox community in New York, for me Nazis and concentration camps was a huge part of my consciousness. My biggest fear was that it would happen again, which is one reason I chose to move to Israel in my 20s. I feared having to go into hiding like Anne Frank. I feared being made to shave my head and walk barefoot for days on end like Elie Weisel. I feared being gassed and cremated, beaten and shot. But more than anything, I feared the loss of control that would lead up to that horrible fate. But at least then, I could blame the Nazis. And if I moved to Israel, and we were bombed and blown up, at least I could blame the Palestinian terrorists, Syria, Iraq, or whoever was the Amalek of the time.
But then I lived in Israel and realized things are not that black and white. Who is Amalek? Is the world so easily divided into those who are good and those who are evil? Those who are victims and those who are perpetrators? Slowly, I came to believe that the only solution to the endless cycle of violence in the world is for us to recognize that we are all human, that there is really nothing that separates us except our own illusion of separation. If we can recognize one another’s humanity, heal our own sacred inner wounds, and let go of our need to protect ourselves against our inevitable human vulnerability, that is when the world will be repaired. One soul at a time.
It was this revelation that led me to study spiritual counseling. The process is healing for both counselor and counselee. Holding space for another in non-judgment, seeing the person sitting across from you as whole and in no need of fixing, can be as healing as being the one on the receiving end of this experience. This is also what led me to join a Palestinian-Jewish narrative sharing group, in which each month one person tells their story while the rest of the group listens and holds space in non-judgment. Whether we are doing this work on an individual, group, and, finally, hopefully, national level, the effects of these ripples have a chance of working their healing power.
So is COVID-19 humanity’s salvation? I would not dare to belittle the traumatic reality we are facing. But since we have no choice but to suffer its consequences, we may as well look for some rainbow in this storm. There is something absolutely stunning about the fact that all of humanity now is suffering from the same threat, and it is not a human threat. We cannot blame anyone, not even ourselves. This is life. This is what it means to be human. And we are all in this together.
Rabbi Haviva Ner-David is the Founding Director of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body and Soul at Kibbutz Hannaton, Israel. She is a post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi. Learn more on her profile page. Connect one-on-one with Rabbi Haviva by booking a Rabbi Connect session. This blog post is excerpted from a longer post at the Times of Israel.