In our contemporary political culture, one of the worst things for a politician is to be seen as“flip flopping” on an issue. While of course we want our leaders or would-be leaders to have firm convictions, I also want leaders who can respond appropriately to new situations and new information. If I am on a flight and the pilot tells us that it is OK to unfasten your seatbelts and move about the cabin, and ten minutes later she tells us to return to our seats and fasten your seatbelts, she isn’t “flip flopping.” She is responding to new information and fulfilling her obligation to keep us as safe as possible.
The current situation is of course much more challenging than a pilot deciding whether or not to turn the “fasten seatbelts” sign back on or not. I have seen it described more than once as trying to figure out how to fly the plane while designing and building it mid-flight.
This is true for our scientists and public health officials but it is also true for religious groups. When many of us assumed that COVID-19 would mean a brief lockdown and then a return to regular operations, the Conservative movement was reluctant to authorize virtual services on Shabbat or counting a minyan over Zoom. As it became clear that the pandemic was going to last for a while, movement guidance changed and our practice changed in response to the new guidance. Over the summer the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards was urging congregations to prepare their members for a full return to in-person services and elimination of Zoom. But as the Delta and then Omicron variants hit, it became clear that this was way too optimistic and in fact, we have taken a step back by temporarily reverting to Zoom-only services.
At-home COVID testing is slowly becoming more available and more affordable, and two antiviral pill regimens for treatment of COVID-19 have recently been approved by the FDA. Data from other countries indicates that the Omicron variant, while far more transmissible, causes less serious illness than previous variants and briefer surges in case numbers. As Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, making predictions is difficult, especially about the future. It may take longer than we had hoped but life will eventually return to some semblance of normal.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian