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207http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2014/10/RabbiLyonsBlog-10_24_2014
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 10_24_2014
10/23/2014 01:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 24, 2014

 

Ebola. It’s enough to make you go screaming from the room. But, when you’re done screaming and running, it’s really about all you need to do about it. The facts speak for themselves; though it’s a mysterious and deadly disease, it will kill far fewer people than will the flu this year. The numbers and the reactions are disproportionate. Have you gone for your flu vaccine yet?

                To me, the essence of our fear isn’t merely the disease; it’s the unpreparedness of the authorities we entrust with matters of public health. The lack of protocols and supplies at hospitals leaves us wondering about the organizations whose primary job is public health and safety. The CDC responded but failed to provide the public the level of confidence it felt was necessary under the threat of Ebola. They can do better.

                This isn’t the first time we’ve faced an emerging disease in a first-world nation and believed we were all doomed. There have been influenzas, polio, and HIV-AIDS, to name a few. When I was an elementary student, Reyes Syndrome killed one of my sixth-grade classmates. Everyone was on alert until a reasonable explanation was found.

                We fear the things we don’t understand. This year, Ebola tops the list. So far, the good news is that is that we’ve been spared the televangelists screeching about Ebola being God’s wrath upon the heathens. Unless I’ve been watching the wrong television stations, I haven’t heard it quite the way we did when HIV first emerged on the scene. Then you would have thought that Satan, himself, had visited the victims of HIV and there would be no saving their souls.

                Twenty-five years ago, Beth Israel hosted an AIDS Care Team. We proudly created a care network that visited and comforted patients living with HIV-AIDS. These patients were often abandoned by family and friends because they were gay, and then isolated because they had HIV-AIDS. While we attended funerals for many of the patients we cared for, it was only after months of reminding them that they were human beings who lived and would later die with dignity.

                More than Ebola, which I don’t fear, is my concern about parents who don’t immunize their children. To me, this is the greatest health risk we face as a nation and ultimately as a world. From what data do parents draw to conclude that the risk they believe they’re preventing in their own children should be the same risk they foist upon other children whose parents do wish to immunize them? Following decades of childhood disease and death due to air-borne illnesses, mumps, smallpox, influenza, and polio, and extraordinary discoveries that led to their near eradication, what public outcry is there about avoiding preventable diseases? Are you a parent of an elementary student where unvaccinated children are allowed to attend the same school, and are you sure? Such private interest cannot come before the public’s health.

                In the right places, fear serves a great purpose. Either fear saves lives because we destroy life-threatening sources or we run from them. But, misplaced fear destroys the public good and offends life-affirming choices. Ebola destroys life, but it’s preventable and treatable. Enough medicine can be produced to prevent and treat it effectively. On the contrary, unimmunized children, for which there are vaccines, threaten their own lives and the lives of others they come into contact with, often unknowingly. Which is a greater threat? The answer seems clear to me.

                Fear is personal. Be afraid of anything you wish, but a psychologist once observed that we aren’t running because we’re afraid; rather, we’re afraid because we’re running. If that’s the case, let’s assume greater responsibility for our reactions to events by learning the facts and realities. Then we might walk in the direction of greater understanding and empathy. It’s exactly what we did twenty years ago with HIV-AIDS; we can do the same, today.


You may contact Rabbi David A. Lyon here.

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