I’ve been thinking of my father, of blessed memory, lately. He was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1911 and died in 1988. Two particular aspects of his childhood captivated me when I was young: the fact that his daily walk to and from school had him pass by the bicycle shop of Orville and Wilbur Wright and his having lived through the Spanish Flue pandemic of 1918-20 that claimed an estimated 100 million lives worldwide at a time when the globe’s population was just 1.8 billion.

Needless to say, the advent of the coronavirus that causes the illness now called COVID-19 that is making its way around the globe has grabbed our serious attention. It, too, brings a connection with my father because my family has always been a hugging-and-kissing family. I think that a comfort level with physical expressions of love and affection was something that both of my parents inherited and which they, in turn, passed along to my and my brothers.

But with COVID-19 in our midst I am learning a new way of relating that I am encouraging our congregation to adopt as well. I am avoiding handshakes, hugs and kisses in the interest of public health and well-being. I have adopted the “elbow bump” , as well a verbal greetings (“Shalom!”, “Namaste!”) as a way of communicating my sense of connection to those I greet as well as my concern for their health (and mine.)

Of course, there is much more we need to do to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and I urge you, if you’ve not yet done so, to visit some of these helpful links:

From the Center For Disease Control: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

From National Public Radio (NPR): How to Prepare Your Home for Coronavirus

The precautions we must take will go a long way not only in protecting ourselves and others, but will help minimize the burden on a health care system that will need to respond to those sickened by COVID-19. They include

• frequent and effective hand-washing
• coughing/sneezing into one’s elbow
• staying home from work/gatherings when you are sick
• getting a flu vaccination
• if you handle food at the temple, wearing the disposable gloves kept in the kitchen

There is another element worth remembering in forswearing those reflexive hugs and kisses: they are not universally welcomed. Many people, especially women made uncomfortable by unsolicited contact from men, do not wish to be touched without their consent.

I write these words in early March, while the course of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being charted. Much will, undoubtedly, change in coming weeks but it is clear to me that the changes in how we greet one another that I are recommended are both important and necessary.

In coming days we may be faced with hard decisions about cancelling or postponing temple events that bring us together in large numbers. Such decisions will be made with the Jewish value of preserving health and life paramount in our minds.

Reb Elias