Now what? / An update from Hazon

Monday, March 16, 2020 | 20th Adar 5780

Dear All,

As well as everything else we’re enduring right now, it is becoming ever clearer that the range of impacts of the virus is extraordinarily varied. This is true in relation to health, but even more so in relation to organizations.

For individuals: although there are exceptions, kids seem in general to be fine, and many young adults are fine also. (But if you get the virus it (a) could still be seriously injurious to you and (b) even if it is not, you could unawarely kill someone else by passing it on. So don’t be sanguine.)

On the other side, as we have seen: for people who are old, or for people with weakened immune systems and so on – these are the people who are in intensive care and who are dying, and their numbers will grow. So the range of outcomes if you get the virus is indeed very wide.

This is true in a different way for companies. Mask manufacturers are super-busy. Food retailers and food manufacturers are doing fine. Conversely – and to give just one example – Gotham Bar & Grill closed its doors for good last Friday. The hit in travel, airlines, restaurants, etc is enormous. Thousands of businesses have taken a huge hit, and hundreds of thousands of people have very quickly lost their jobs. So the range of impacts is very wide. And the need for societal safety nets has never been clearer or more pressing.

Some organizations may be mostly online, and thus only marginally affected. For summer camps, by contrast, there are now complex questions about the summer and possibly a serious risk to revenues.

And for the smallish number of Jewish retreat centers, including Hazon’s Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, the hit is immediate and consequential. We have already had more than $200,000 of cancelled bookings, and as of now we have closed our campus for the next three weeks. This week we will have to determine whether to extend that closure and what our options are.

Hazon, like many second-stage organizations, has no endowment and very little in the way of reserves. We have cut expenditures significantly, and a number of board members have also already generously stepped up with additional support. (If you’d like to give a 2020 gift, or to increase your support, please do so here.)

And, even as we make needed cuts, we’re working also to try to coordinate some of the JOFEE organizations and leaders. We will be sharing avodat lev services (check back on Hazon’s Facebook page for more info) – a daily online opportunity to daven and connect together – and we’re thinking about resources for parents to use with kids. Check out Grow Torah and their resources, for instance, if you’re looking for ideas. And I had said in an earlier email we had something big planned for Earth Day on April 22nd – that too we’re going to do but in a slightly different way.

I share all of this because we simply want people to know where we’re up to in what remains a fast-changing environment. We remain committed to the health and wellness of our staff and of our participants. We believe deeply in the vital necessity of the work that we do. And/but some of our impact will be curtailed in the near future, as we try to figure out how to respond.

I’d add that in a bizarre way, what is happening now in the world goes to the very deepest aspects of our work – of why we exist as an organization. For these twenty years we have argued that the world is living in ways that are literally unsustainable. We have argued that we need a radical shift in how we as westerners live, in order to avoid greater catastrophe down the road. And we have argued that there is within Jewish tradition wisdom that can and should be harnessed in relation to the great challenges that the world now faces.

Many people pointed out the extraordinary resonance of last week’s parsha in relation to what is now happening in the world. When we read about a plague it doesn’t sound so old-fashioned anymore. When we learn about the rituals of washing before entering a holy place – ditto. If you haven’t yet read it, you should read the beautiful essay by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, quite rightly placing what we are going through now in the context of deep Jewish teachings about shmita and about living in right relationship for the world.

I digress, but deliberately so. My point is that, as a Jewish community, and in America, and across the world, we will come through this. But when the news finally starts to get better rather than worse, we will have time, then, to think about the societal teshuva that is needed. We will have time – and the obligation – not only to strengthen public health coordination, across the world, and not only to increase social safety nets for people who are most vulnerable, but also, even more deeply, to understand this crisis as a metaphor for the unsustainability of how we are living. Just as individuals with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable, so too as a human society we must slow down, and consume less and travel less, in order to renew the resilience of human society.

And so, as these next weeks and months evolve, I pray that people not get sick; I pray that those who do get sick recover; and I pray that together we maintain and ultimately improve the resilience of organizations, also, so that the Jewish community is served by the vision and passion and people and ideas that we need.

I extend huge thanks to Hazon’s staffers, Hazon’s board members and Hazon’s stakeholders, both institutional and individual. Your support, practical and existential, has been and continues to be immensely significant, and I am grateful to each and all of you.

I end with the opening words of my email just 11 days ago. 11 days ago seems, in some ways, like an earlier era, given all that has happened since then. But I think what I wrote is still germane.

The coronavirus is spreading, and it will get worse before it gets better.
Batten down the hatches, wash your hands, follow public safety advice, be considerate to others – and don’t freak out.


PS – Just five days after I sent that email I read this essay, by Tomas Pueyo, which many of you will have seen, and which sets out the epidemiology of the coronavirus clearly and credibly. If you haven’t yet read it, I commend it.