Blog: Pandemic

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Here we go again

I was wondering when that would happen. My synagogue just sent email saying services this week are virtual only, and the committee in charge of reopening will meet on Sunday to decide what happens next.

Given the current wild spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19, I'm not surprised. Since we were already doing hybrid services, I'm a little disappointed that the in-person option is now unavailable for those who feel safe doing so. (Our requirement was always "fully vaccinated + mask at all times".) On the other hand:

graph of new cases with scary trend line

It's been obvious all fall that it was getting worse, but the last week or so took rather an extreme turn.

(Graph is from Johns Hopkins.)

Another downstream cost of the pandemic

Well, not the pandemic itself, but the way people are responding to it.

Forwarded through some intermediaries from Reddit, one long-time doctor's explanation for leaving the field:

(Heavy content warning) Read more…

People in three dimensions!

As of yesterday we are fully vaccinated. We have friends coming for Shabbat lunch for the first time in more than a year. Yay! Let's see if we remember how to do this. :-)

(He's a nurse and she was high-priority for other reasons. They've been waiting for their friends to catch up on vaccines, I think.)


After the first vaccine dose, my arm was sore and I was a bit tired that day, but that was it.

This second dose is kicking my butt. I got it Thursday, and my arm is still sore and I'm still feeling tired and a little fuzzy-brained. Fortunately no other symptoms, but I do hope the ones I have abate soon! (Friday was not one of my more productive days at work.)

Weird thing on Thursday: after giving me the shot (which hurt more than the first one), the person commented that my skin was really tight. I said "you saw me relax my arm as instructed, yes?". Yes, I did. She was commenting on my skin, not my muscles. I've never heard of that before. She wondered if it was because it was pretty cold that day. Shrug? (I don't know if that accounts for the extra pain.) I was deliberately not looking, so it's not like I saw the needle coming and had an instinctive reaction.


Friday morning the Pennsic staff announced that Pennsic 49, postponed from last year, would be postponed again to next year. This did not surprise me; I figured a 50-50 chance this year was optimistic, given the uncertainties involved. Our camp had already been discussing the possibility of holding "Little Pennsic"; one person has enough land for our 25 or so vaccinated people to camp for a week.

A few hours later, Cooper's Lake Campground announced that they would be holding "Armistice" during the Pennsic timeslot, and that they need this event to succeed or they might not be around in 2022. As a business that relies on events -- except for this year, they no longer host plain old camping, only large events -- they are certainly hurting, but there was something about the language that felt off-putting to me. (More on that in a few paragraphs.)

The event announcement has the basic information: not an SCA event but designed to resemble Pennsic in most ways. No battles, but groups can "check out" list fields or archery ranges for their own use (and presumably at their own liability). Tents will be available for classes. Merchants are welcome. There will be some semblance of "land grab" for camping spots. You can register now (prices are higher than Pennsic). But they don't yet say anything about pandemic-related restrictions, like whether vaccines will be required and whether, even with vaccines, masks will be required. They'll follow state guidelines but, in April, nobody knows what those will be in July/August. That makes it hard for people to commit.

Pennsic has, over the last several years, felt more and more like a Cooper's Lake event and less and less like one controlled by the SCA, so in a way this is a natural step in the evolution of the event. For most events, the SCA rents space and is responsible for running the event; with Pennsic, Cooper's Lake has much more control, particularly over the financial aspects of the event. It's kind of a weird hybrid.

Pennsic has been at Cooper's Lake for about 45 years. The original Coopers (and Wilvers), who were friends of the SCA and shared its values, are gone. A new generation is running the campground now. They don't have that history and they don't share those values, so it's not surprising that they run things differently. The old Coopers could have said "hey folks, we're in trouble" and help would have flooded in from their friends in the SCA. The new Coopers have not maintained that close relationship, focusing on the business over the people (sometimes at the expense of the people), so it's hard to predict what will happen now. I think this is why I react to their plea the way I do; they moved from personal relationships to a business model, which is a valid decision for them to make, but this is the kind of appeal one makes with personal relationships. It feels out of place, given the changes in direction.

I suspect that when (if) Pennsic returns in 2022, the SCA will own less of it than it did in 2019. Only time will tell what Pennsic will look like in a few more years.

In comments somebody asked whether it's feasible to move the event. I wrote: Read more…

Looking back

A year in, I find myself thinking back to the beginnings. In January of 2020 we had early reports, increasing in February, but life went on mostly as normal anyway. There was a local SCA event on March 7, and part of me wanted to stay home but our choir was performing and a friend was coming in from out of town to attend (and crash with us), and we went and had a lovely time -- and a healthy one, fortunately.

Purim was a few days later, and at the last minute I decided not to go to a large gathering. (They advised the elderly to stay home, but they didn't cancel.) Our Shabbat minyan met on March 14, but we moved into the sanctuary, where the 25 or so of us could spread out in a room that seats over 300. We didn't know then, but it would be the last time we met in person for more than a year.

Over that weekend, or maybe Monday, the state had some early rumblings of a stay-at-home order. It must not have taken effect immediately, because I remember going into the office on the following Monday, and taking some equipment home with me so I could work from home. Our office formally closed around Wednesday, I think, but it was a formality; we'd all decided by then that staying home was the wiser move. And soon there was a stay-at-home order from the state.

My choir had cancelled that week's practice, and the director cancelled through the end of the month, with the idea that we'd look at other options (outdoors? a really large space? the home we were practicing in was clearly out of consideration). We were so optimistic back then, despite the warnings we'd gotten from other parts of the world. It wasn't that we thought we were invulnerable; rather, we thought that with a little care, one could mitigate the risk without having to completely isolate. Ha. Read more…

The cost of plagues

I want to amplify something I saw on Twitter today by AvBronstein:

A congregant shared an insight: immediately following the final plague, the killing of the first-born, the text tells us that "Pharaoh arose that night."

In other words, he had gone to sleep.

Pharaoh couldn't have gone to sleep on the assumption that the plague wasn't going to happen. This was the tenth time around. He knew. His advisers knew, the people knew. The Midrash says that the Egyptian first-born actually rebelled, taking up arms, because they knew.

Rather, Pharaoh was prepared to bear the cost of the final plague. For him, it was worth it. So much so, that he was even able to sleep that night, knowing what was coming.

I'm going to interrupt for a moment here. Paro knew by now what the consequences of his stubborn refusal to give up personal power would be. He'd seen his people be afflicted by nine previous plagues. Some of them even affected the elite in the palace, though they had more power than "regular folks" to evade some of the effects. They could bring all their animals safely inside before the hail, could source drinking water elsewhere, could afford to replace animals lost to the pestilence, could get top-notch medical care not available to others. But some plagues affected even them, safely in their palaces. They knew. Paro knew.

And Moshe had just told him that God was going to kill all the first-born, from the palace on down to the slaves, even down to the animals. Paro knew this was a credible threat.

And he was ok with that. Maybe he had some magical thinking that his own family would be protected; more likely his son was an acceptable loss. Certainly the first-born of all the people he ruled, the people he was nominally responsible for, were acceptable losses. He was their ruler and "god", after all; he couldn't be weak by giving in to Moshe and the true God. These afflictions would pass and the deserving would survive.

And it wasn't just Paro thousands of years ago, now was it? This happens with power-hungry leaders, ones who've lost touch with whom they serve, all the time. It happened in our day, with a deadly plague that our leaders concealed the severity of, because they were safe. A few hundred thousand old folks are an acceptable loss to preserve the illusion of strength, right?

Avraham continues on Twitter:

I can't help but think of all those people ready to launch a civil war in America, so grimly sure that they are prepared to pay whatever price needs to be paid. And how many of them, like Pharaoh, woke up later that night and realized just what they had done to themselves.

I'm also thinking of a President calmly watching the insurrection he stoked on television, only to realize the costs he will be paying for the rest of his life out of what remains of his fortune, reputation, and legacy.

Me again. And I'm also thinking of all the people who were, and even still are, fine with plague deaths, and murders and reckless killings, and treating human beings like animals even down to the cages, and justice systems that depend on who the accused is, and ruining people's lives on mere accusations and presumptions, because they, personally, are safe. But nobody's safe, and we can't sleep through the unrest our society has fallen into.

Paro's people had no power to effect change; Paro held all the cards. We might not have much power to effect change, but I think we have a little more (voting, for example), and I pray it's enough to avert Egypt's fate, despite bad decisions made by those who rule us.


Somebody on Twitter asked:

What did you learn in 2020 (besides how to make bread)?

I responded there:

  • To grow food in pots.
  • To cut men's hair.
  • To cook more new things.
  • That my cat loves me being home all the time.
  • More about community-building.
  • How to set up a nonprofit foundation.
  • To cut people w/no morals or human decency out of my life.
  • And yes, sourdough.

I was up against a character limit there, but I'm not here. Read more…

Rising to the challenge

Since March my Shabbat morning minyan has been meeting on Zoom, not in person. Since June I've been attending, sort of -- I join the call on my tablet (with a headset plugged in) Friday afternoon before sundown, and most weeks the minyan is there in the morning. (Sometimes Zoom fails in some way or other.) I don't turn on video or a mic; I am a purely passive consumer of whatever is set in motion in advance. It doesn't really feel like praying, but it's a form of contact with the minyan and it's the best we can do right now.

For the last couple months they've been trying to get more people involved in the service -- do a reading, lead this prayer, etc, as a way of building engagement. In the Before Times I was one of the torah readers (though recently I'd been backing off due to some vision challenges). Sometime this summer someone asked me if I would chant torah, recording it in advance so I wouldn't be violating anything, and I did that once. (I should note that it's not really a torah service, since there's no scroll and no in-person gathering. We read or chant the portion from Sefaria but without the torah blessings.)

Often but not always, the torah reader also gives a short talk. (They've been trying to mix that up too; some people are comfortable giving a talk but can't read torah.) I was asked to read this week and was told that someone else had asked to give the talk. Fine, I said -- I prepared the torah reading, only, and we recorded it tonight.

45 minutes ago I got email -- that person backed out, and do I want to do something, recording tomorrow? (If not we would just do without, or maybe a rabbi would improvise something -- no guilt involved here.)

It's Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat before Yom Kippur. There should be something. So I started mentally outlining (not ashamed to reuse some old notes either), said yes, and started writing. I have a draft now, which I'll make another pass over tomorrow morning. It'll be an adventure!

Rosh Hashana 5781

My synagogue streamed its services, with some parts recorded in advance (like all the student torah readers) and some parts live. They assumed that people would check email and click links on Rosh Hashana (we say we're "inclusive" but we don't really mean it), and after much pushing I was able to get the stream link for Saturday morning mere moments before sundown Friday so I could set it up in advance.

During the service our (interim) rabbi said "this is live" and as proof, held up the day's New York Times. Which is how I found out the sad news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing. (And now I fear even more for our country.)

It did not feel like a service, which didn't surprise me. I mostly prayed on my own instead, sometimes badly (there's a lot of stuff we don't say the rest of the year so I'm not fluent), but I listened to the torah reading and the sermon. The stream froze near the end, during the announcements after the sermon and before Aleinu. All of which strengthened my resolve for today. Read more…