If there's one sentence that the Torah repeats again and again, it is, "You shall not mistreat stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." In other words: A core -- perhaps the most core -- Jewish value is that we should all learn to identify with and prioritize the needs of those whom our society marginalizes. In this pandemic era, that means high-risk, disabled, and chronically ill people.
In terms of halacha, or Jewish law, one of the very highest values is "pikuach nefesh," or saving a life. We are obligated to take action to save a life even if it means going against the core prohibitions of Shabbat, and even if that life is only possibly in danger. How much more so, then, are Jewish communities today obligated to prioritize saving lives during an ongoing deadly pandemic?
Additionally, our prophetic tradition emphasizes the importance of religious practice that helps us grow in our enactment of social justice. Isaiah 58, traditionally read on Yom Kippur morning as the haftarah portion, includes the resounding line, "Is this the fast that I desire, a day for people to afflict their bodies? ... Surely this is the fast that I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke; To let the oppressed go free, To break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin." How might Isaiah respond to Jewish communities today that are prioritizing meeting in indoor spaces with acoustics that enhance the "spirituality" of prayer, while simultaneously blocking marginalized community members from being able to be safely present in Jewish spaces?
We believe in the power of "teshuva," or reflection and return, and we know that it's been a very hard two and a half years. We are here to help you and your community live the Jewish values to which we know you aspire.