By: Gabriel Shnaider

In these last few days, I took the time to observe, analyze and reflect on different situations that arise in the new scenario that we are experiencing, and therefore, I would like to share some ideas with you.

It was from one minute to the next that the entire world froze, stopping with it the normal life that we had previously known. We tend (or used to) live in a routine, often without noticing the details that are really an essential part of our daily lives—being able to go out, meet with friends, eat in restaurants, attend classes and shake hands, among other practices that have already become intrinsic, which we never questioned or valued as they deserve. Last Friday was the first time that the Lima synagogues were closed without offering the traditional Kabalat Shabbat. It was a very strange feeling, something bitter and melancholic, making a Tefillah at home and not among the Kehilla. It is sad, but true, that you only learn to value what you have once you lose it. 

In light of all of the above, I understand that the fundamental difference is in the attitude that we decide to have toward this situation: we can lock ourselves in negative thoughts and preach the end of the world or learn from it and then continue, better than we were before. As Richard Evans says: “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars”.  Stars are often used as a metaphorical figure of hope and faith. As also, for centuries, the stars were the sailors’ GPS. The sailors used the stars’ light as a compass to find the way to their destination. In this dark night brought by COVID-19, we can also see some stars pointing to the north to follow, and their light fills us with hope. 

Star #1: Awareness of the importance of public health

Our health is the most important thing, and it is our duty to know how to take care and protect ourselves, as well as the entire population, to avoid harming ourselves. Many people live uninformed of this basic and primordial concept; the lack of knowledge that has been demonstrated is a warning sign that must concern us. Acts as simple as washing our hands or covering our mouths to sneeze today get the importance that they should have always had. As also, understanding, respecting and recognizing those who are part of the healthcare system—people who are in constant danger so that they can take care of everyone—should have always been important to us. 

In this context, a relevant concept arises, which is public health. We understand public health as the organized response of society aimed at promoting, maintain and protecting the health of the community and preventing disease, injury and disability. The key is to eliminate egocentrism and replace it with the contribution and support that we can provide for the collective well-being.  

Star #2: Detox of the earth

Humans stopped for a few days, but the rest of the living beings with which we share this planet are moving more than ever. 

Videos of the canals of Venice where fish, swans and even a dolphin are seen, as well as a few boars in Munich or a penguin in the Chicago zoo, they make us think of the impact we have on the ecosystem. 

The fourth day after a state of emergency and compulsory social isolation were declared in Peru, I went out to the market for a few minutes to buy what was missing from my house. It was shocking seeing how the classic “Gray Lima” was painted in a beautiful light blue. For 20 years of living in Lima, I have never seen the sky so colorful before, reflecting cleanliness and life. I may have overrated it after a few days without leaving my house; this does not take away from how admirable the landscape was. 

For years there has been talk of the deterioration of the planet and its nature, the product of the destruction that humanity generates. Seeing how, in a few days, the world healed itself tells us that the change is not unattainable and that we are still in time to continue taking care and protecting our home. 

Star #3: Speaking of virtual classes

Schools, universities, tnuot and other educational centers were forced to close their doors in order to safeguard the health of their members. Thanks to technology, many have been able to adapt their activities to a virtual mode. The first thing is to admire and recognize the effort of every educator to continue his/her work despite the circumstances. The hard work of teachers, madrichim, directors and the entire educational community to want to be with their students to accompany them in times of uncertainty demonstrates their nobility and sincerity toward their work; the attitude that they decide to have is not trivial. 

Although virtual classes already existed, the strength and leadership that educators acquired during this quarantine invite us to make an interesting reflection. The archaic models where the teacher gives a presentation and transmits his/her knowledge to a group of students who do not actively participate in the educational process except by listening and memorizing have been partially forced to change. Virtual classes depend on the autonomy of the student. Although a virtual conference can be “given”, the educator is under the requirement of planning a dynamic that is creative and attractive enough to ensure its efficiency. Similarly, current models indicate that a virtual class should encourage the student to partake in independent work, where he/she must be the protagonist of his/her learning and the teacher plays the role of guide and adviser. 
On the other hand, the educational centers’ routine also has some characteristics that used to go unnoticed that today acquire the value and recognition they deserve. Socialization is essential for human development, and as much as technology allows communication between everyone, it is not the same as face-to-face physical, interpersonal interaction.  The value of a hug, a high-five or a pat on the back is irreplaceable. For several years, the psychologist Lev Vygotsky emphasized that children acquire new and better cognitive skills through the learning generated thanks to their experiences when relating to others. Quoting him: “We learn from others and with others.” 

Paulo Freire also argues that it is easier to learn in company than it is to learn alone, comparing the group to the basic cell of education.

These are just three highlights that call us to reflect and hopefully encourage the construction of a new future. There are many other similar points that we must identify and know how to use. We must see these moments of crisis as new opportunities to grow, change and improve.

As long as the night lasts and we continue sailing while looking at the sky in search of direction, it is essential to be aware of our behavior. Understanding that being quarantined involves a lifestyle that we are not used to, we must take the necessary measures to take care and protect ourselves and successfully overcome this time.

One of the most important points is to ensure mental health. Among the aspects that are highlighted and repeated in articles published by experts in recent days, we find the following tips:

  • It is important to understand the situation that we are in, the reasons for the preventative measures taken and their purpose. As Viktor Frankl said: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’,
  • The news and social media are flooded with news, new information and case updates, so much so that it can become overwhelming. It is important to limit and control our exposure to all of this, so that we can manage to digest it with calmness so that we do not feel drowned. 
  • The vast majority of material circulating on the internet is known as Fake News. We must always have a critical and analytical view of the information and verify that it comes from a reliable source. Above all, let us not be a part of the panic diffusion chain; stop the hysteria and provide truthful content. 
  • Even if we are in social isolation, we can and must keep in touch with our families and friends. It is crucial that we go through situations like this accompanied. We all are here to support each other and get ahead together. 
  • It is necessary and very helpful to look for activities that distract us, not to be thinking of the pandemic 24/7. Whether life goes on depends on whether we want to live it.

It is also substantial (in any context) to take other precautions such as:

  • Eat a balanced and controlled diet. Being in quarantine does not have to make us exceed limits that harm our health in other aspects.
  • Open the windows so that that sunlight can enter, so we can see the trees and hear the birds singing. Let us take advantage of the pure nature that is presented to us. 
  • Take care of our personal hygiene and the cleanliness of our environment. 
  • Practice sports or do some kind of physical activity. Countless are the health benefits, such as releasing the hormones of happiness, relieving and reducing stress, increasing self-esteem, relieving anxiety, improving our behavior, fighting sleeping disorders such as insomnia and drowsiness and serving as a distracting activity. 

Finally, we need to realize that we are not alone on the ship. All of us are sailing. In recent days we have witnessed countless displays of solidarity and empathy, as all of humanity is reaching out to be together. Seeing gyms offering feasible classes and training at home, restaurants publishing recipes for everyone to cook, musicians organizing virtual concerts to entertain their fans, doctors and psychologists offering visits for free on their social networks to prevent the health system from collapsing, among many other initiatives of people with kind hearts who intend to contribute their part.  

On Wednesday, March 18, a chain email was spread so that at 8:00 PM, all Peruvians went to their windows to applaud in gratitude those who continue working to sustain the situation. This gesture was also carried out in various cities around the world as a proposal for doctors, nurses, police officers, the military, personnel who work in waste management and city maintenance, firefighters and supply centers’ workers to be awarded loud applause, whistles and even songs. During the minutes this gesture lasted, we could appreciate the strength with which we are fighting. 

One single person would not have been heard from a block, but this generated a vibe that was felt even in the tallest building in Lima. Another great example is the four EL-Al plains which came to Lima bringing Peruvian citizens who were in Israel and returning around a thousand Israelis who were in Peru, granting the possibility for each one of them to remain in the comfort of their homes at such complicated moments. This is the power of union and solidarity.

Thinking about all this brings to mind a song that I used to sing with my dad every Friday when we left the synagogue. It goes like this: “Long live the people who we like the best! For more people in favor of people in every town and nation, there would be fewer difficult people and more people with hearts”.

Let us take advantage of this episode to reflect and generate a real change. Let us fix our gaze toward the sky in search of stars that shine and illuminate us to be able to continue sailing. Let us be responsible with our behavior during this ride and appreciate the rest of the sailors who are sailing alongside us. 

1 We understand mental health as: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Mental health concepts include subjective well-being, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence and the awareness of the ability to function intellectually and emotionally. It has also been defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health refers to the possibility of increasing the competence of individuals and communities and allowing them to achieve their own goals” (World Health Organization, 2004).

2 There are thousands of videos in YouTube with virtual classes to perform from home without the need for special equipment. There are apps with training routines and many other ways to exercise at home, so there is no excuse.

3 Unfortunately, not everyone assumes their civic reasonability as they should. Similarly, as Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must not lose faith in humanityHumanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”.

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