I wore my mask, I washed my hands, I kept my distance from others, and yet, I tested positive for COVID-19 last month. Thank G-d I am now healthy and fully back to work. I am able to hug my wife and children and leave the confines of my home office, where I quarantined and healed. It is my belief that after surviving such a traumatic experience, it’s important to share insights and learnings to help people navigate this path and understand what others may be going through.
The irony is that I was burning the proverbial candle at both ends, all related to COVID and the pandemic. I was on call after call and Zoom after Zoom helping families navigate the fear, the economic burdens and the stress of COVID. I was discussing and learning the nuances of the virus from experts, so we could prepare for the new school year. I talked to doctors, CDC folks, nurses and other health organizations to carefully craft the safety and academic plan for our upcoming school year. With my incredible administrative team and our experienced health and safety committee, I worked tirelessly on our remote learning options and on crafting the AJA “response” to COVID. Well, COVID had another plan for me! I was down for the count but did my best to make lemonade out of a whole truckload of lemons.
I’m not going to sugar coat it; this virus was a miserable experience for me. I never imagined I could get COVID, as I rarely had left my home after we moved to remote learning in March. In fact, my kids will tell you, “Abba says if Amazon does not sell it, he does not need it!”
My experience with COVID was the most difficult medical experience of my life. It was unbearable fatigue and it felt like every one of my body functions was under duress. All I could think about was “please no hospital, please no respiratory issues.” I was very lucky. I was able to recover in the peace and quiet and comfort of my office couch, knowing my family was nearby. I don’t take that gift lightly.
In true rabbinic fashion, I reflected and pondered my situation and tried to glean wisdom from it.
Also in true rabbinic fashion, I’d like to share these revelations with you.
The Only COVID Medication
Unfortunately, there is no medicine to help one heal from COVID or accelerate the process. The only thing that helped my recovery was the outpouring of love, emails, texts, calls, flowers and (of course) food from our community. I was reminded that if someone you care about is hurting, even a short text or note can work miracles to boost their mood. Taking the time to do that, and to connect with one another, that is the best medicine and an incredible mitzvah you can do for someone else.
There is nothing at all I could have done to fight the COVID. My body was doing what it was going to do, and I had no say in the matter. We say many brachot thanking G-d for our bodies. We have blessings that raise our consciousness about the amazing power of our body. This virus felt like it ravaged mine, but through the help of Hashem, I am grateful that I am now better. It was humbling to be reminded of this.
Pirkei Avot 1:14
“If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?” Our work together can help contain the spread and do our part to protect those most vulnerable to COVID. We need to not stigmatize this virus; no one is immune, even if they “follow the rules” like I did. If someone does get it, be there for them with support and understanding. If you get it, please be honest and open, so that your personal circle and community is aware and can take the necessary precautions to keep themselves safe. To me, this pandemic became less about who has it and why, and more about how we can respond to and care for those afflicted.
This pandemic might be the biggest and potentially most important test of the concept of “community responsibility” that we’ve ever faced. You see, it is not just my role or your role to protect ourselves and our own families. It is OUR role as a community to protect everyone and their families. As Jews, we are obligated to be there for one another – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
As we have opened our school, what is sure to be an unusual school year for us all, I am grateful for many things. Beyond my own personal gratitude for the chesed and care I received, I am so glad to be together with my community at school. Wishing all students an incredible year of learning and sending gratitude to all of Atlanta’s educators. Please know how grateful we all are for your dedication to the students.
Rabbi Ari Leubitz is the head of school of the Atlanta Jewish Academy