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We cannot afford to be mere observers of this COVID-19 crisis. There is much that we can and should be doing to help each other out.

What America has to understand is that we are about to enter COVID hell. The next three or four months are going to be, by far, the darkest of the pandemic.”

If these words were spoken by someone who lacked true expertise (like, say, a politician), then we could easily dismiss the words as coming from an uninformed source with a personal agenda. But this prediction is from Dr. Michael Osterholm, one of the foremost epidemiologists in the world, who is currently the director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and who was recently named to President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Task Force. Since the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Osterholm has been an apolitical and sober voice who accurately foresaw the steady and dire spread of the virus.

Mark Jacobs
Mark Jacobs

Soon it’ll be a year since this nightmare came into our lives. How much time have we wasted debating the severity of it or how it originated or deflecting responsibility for dealing with it? Those days must be over. This virus doesn’t care about political spin; it just wants to spread, and it does like a wildfire. It is, as Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, “brilliantly contagious.” Recent reports of an anticipated vaccination are encouraging, but even the developers of the vaccines don’t see widespread use until the spring, at best.

So it appears we’re in a holding pattern this winter, anxiously awaiting some Big Pharma company to come to our rescue. But waiting cannot mean sitting back and doing nothing. We cannot afford to be mere observers to this crisis. There is much that we can and should be doing to help each other out. Indeed, it is our fundamental responsibility to do so, both as good citizens and as Jews. The Jewish concept of tikkun olam — to “repair” or “heal” the world — compels us to jump into action during this crucial phase of this virus.

Over the course of the impending harsh winter, there are many options available to us. Here are just a few:

• We can make a conscious effort to come to the aid of small businesses, many of whom have been decimated by this virus, particularly the restaurant industry. We can support our local restaurants this winter by making a point to regularly patronize them, if not with inside dining, then through their carry-out or delivery service. We can also purchase gift cards from them and, to help the wait staff, we can try to be extra-generous with tipping. In fact, wherever you see a tip jar at a retail store (dry cleaners, bakery, etc.), make a contribution if you can.

• We can step up our support for our local synagogues and temples. Many congregation members are struggling to pay their dues during the pandemic, so those that can do so should consider paying early to help the places that do so much for us. Most synagogues and temples have boosted their social action programs to help during the pandemic, in and out of the Jewish community. We can volunteer our time, money and supplies to their worthy efforts, which will be especially needed in the coming months.

• We can contact the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, who can direct us to a host of organizations that need volunteers and supplies during this critical time. Jewish Family Service, the National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Senior Life and Yad Ezra, in particular, have been busy providing food to vulnerable populations, particularly seniors. The Meals on Wheels program has been especially challenged, as it dealt with an influx of people needing meal deliveries because caretakers were uncomfortable going to the store.

• We can donate blood to the American Red Cross, which, during the pandemic, is now testing for COVID-19 antibodies and helping coronavirus patients with plasma transfusions.

• We can help our schools — which have been stretched to the limits by the virus — by supporting DonorsChoose (DonorsChoose.org), a leading national funding site for teachers in high-need communities. The site publishes specific requests from teachers, who lately have been pleading for personal protective equipment to “keep our students and staff safe.

Obviously, these are just some examples of ways we can help. There is an endless list of other things that we may do. But the important thing is to recognize the harsh reality: This virus is out of control and a hellish winter of suffering for countless people is just around the corner.

Each of us has a vital role here. If there was ever a time to step up and help your community, this is it.

Mark Jacobs is the AIPAC Michigan chair for African American Outreach, a co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council-AJC and the director of Jewish Family Service’s Legal Referral Committee.

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