Rabbi Mark Dratch is the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America. Below, he reflects on what has inspired him amid the pain of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how we can work together to create a redeemed world.
As the past weeks have unfolded, bringing unprecedented challenges to many, what are some moments in which you were reminded of the interconnectedness of our one human family?
Rabbi Dratch: The COVID-19 epidemic does not discriminate between nationalities, races, religions, or socioeconomic circumstances. We are all vulnerable: all distanced from family, friends, and neighbors; all locked out of our houses of worship; all celebrating our holidays and holy days in isolation-- situations that remind us of the words of the prophet Malachi (2:10), "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" Having suffered the loss of my mother-in-law to the virus, I experienced personally the overwhelming kindness of many strangers: doctors, nurses, first responders, and funeral and cemetery personnel, as well as the support and love of family, friends and community.
While profoundly disturbed by the expressions of xenophobia, bigotry, racism and hate that reared their ugly heads out of ignorance, fear and narrowmindedness (situations not at all alien to me as a Jew), I was encouraged by the strong response from many diverse corners to call out these baseless expressions and actions of hate and to stand united with the targeted communities.
How have you found ways to celebrate given the precautions you must take to protect yourself, your loved ones and your communities?
Rabbi Dratch: ”This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalms 188:24). Despite the difficulties and challenges, people of faith are grateful for the gift of life, the gift of a new day. Through prayer and study of religious texts I have learned to develop a perspective that enables me to see (most of the time) the larger picture of God's love. Despite the isolation, we have found ways to connect with loved ones through video chats, phone calls, and infrequent socially distanced visits. As difficult as it is not to pick up my grandchildren, I keep in mind that I am investing in their health and safety (and mine) so that we can share in each other's lives in the long term.
One of the things that has inspired me most is the desire of many in my community to want to pray together and observe religious ritual in community, and because that is impossible, their desire to know how to observe the intricacies of our religious practices within the current restrictions. Volumes have already been written with religious response by prominent rabbinic scholars who have addressed a myriad of questions with scholarly erudition, religious commitment, and, most importantly, empathetic sensitivity.
How can we, at the World Council of Churches, help you prevent and stop hate and bigotry? What can we pray for you?
Rabbi Dratch: We can all prevent and stop hate and bigotry by learning more about each other: who we are as human beings, who we are as religious souls, what we believe and practice, and what drives our commitments to God, our faith, our people, and our history. What can you pray? According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s daughter, Dr Susanna Heschel, "When he came home from Selma in 1965, my father wrote, 'For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.'" Let's walk together to create a redeemed world.