Chairman’s Message – Summer 2020

This summer issue has certainly been the most challenging in my fifteen years as chairman of Jewish Action.

When we planned this issue back in February, we could never have imagined what the world would look like just a few short weeks later. Back then, the virus seemed only a distant threat, affecting the residents of a little-known Chinese city by the name of Wuhan. Within a few short weeks, however, Wuhan shot into the spotlight and suddenly terms like “Covid-19,” “social distancing” and “quarantine” became household words. Before we knew it, we were dealing with a deadly pandemic in our cities and in our own communities, with no end in sight.

As a quarterly, Jewish Action does not strive to keep readers abreast of the news. There are dailies and weeklies for that purpose. Instead we take the time to reflect on events, to deliberate, to carefully probe the depths of a story. At times we offer thoughtful analysis; other times we shed light on an event or phenomenon by having people share their personal experiences—individual stories that ultimately tell a larger story.

We like to give writers weeks or even months to research a topic, and more often than not, an article will go back to a writer two or three times until we feel it addresses the topic thoroughly, in a way that will satisfy our readers.

But planning this summer issue proved to be exceptionally difficult. Many of the stories we lined up in February no longer felt relevant; they simply didn’t resonate anymore. We found ourselves pulling article after article. Even assuming all would be back to normal by June (we naively thought that in early March!), we couldn’t ignore the pandemic—it was too all-consuming, coloring every aspect of everyone’s day-to-day life.

At the same time, there was no chance to reflect on Covid-19, as the situation was constantly evolving. How do we write a piece in March about a story that changes with each passing day when the magazine will not appear in print until early June?

Who could predict how the pandemic would play out and what people would want to know about or read about in the months ahead?

After rethinking, recalibrating and readjusting, we solicited new material and came up with a variety of new articles including one I am especially proud of: “The Corona Diaries.” A mix of personal essays that are poignant and insightful, the article is framed as a diary, offering reflections written by a broad range of individuals, including a single mom sheltering in place, a young woman who got married during quarantine, and a doctor and nurse, both of whom are on the frontlines and feel as if they are in a war zone. We hope you find reading this issue, crafted with much thought and care, to be a meaningful and rewarding experience.

On a personal note, I am currently quarantining in Florida, where I was when the pandemic first hit. While being in quarantine poses many challenges, especially for those of us like me who are in the high-risk category for Covid-19, there are certainly some bright spots. I have, for example, discovered a whole new world of online shiurim that keep my spirits and energy level high. Even though I am quite busy between remotely managing my full-time job as well as my Jewish Action responsibilities, I make sure to attend my Zoom shiurim, delivered by Rabbi Asher Weiss, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and others. Back in Brooklyn in my pre-quarantine life, while I had a full schedule of business meetings and a few shiurim as well, somehow during quarantine the shiurim have become far more central to my day.

Quarantine has also stripped away many distractions, leaving us open to spending our time doing that which we really want to do. One of the first concepts you learn in time management seminars is the difference between the “urgent” and the “important.” Urgent is defined as those things on our to-do lists that require immediate attention, although they might be trivial. Important is defined as those tasks that relate to our values and long-term goals and can have a real impact on our lives. In quarantine, my “urgent” tasks have dwindled significantly as I cannot pick up the dry cleaning or go for a car wash. And so I spend my free time taking care of truly important tasks—attending daily shiurim, catching up with old friends and enjoying my family and grandchildren over Zoom. In other words, doing the things I really want to do. This has been a silver lining, which I’m hoping to keep up long after the quarantine is over.

Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and an honorary vice president of the OU.

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This article was featured in the Summer 2020 issue of Jewish Action.
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