The Health Hazard Posed by Racism

RACISM

Over the last few years–but certainly more intensely since the killing of George Floyd–our nation has begun to recognize the serious damage that has been caused by racism. The brunt of that damage, of course, has been felt by minority groups, but many recognize that racism harms all of us.

Although I consider myself an open-minded and empathetic person (who happens to belong to a minority group too), I do not fully understand the challenges faced by others who do not look like me. I have been shielded from much of the hatred, violence, and injustice. The last couple of years have made me more aware of the insidious ways in which racism has infected every corner of society; it has impacted jobs, public safety, self-esteem, the arts, and politics to name just some areas. I have become more attuned to how widespread the problem is.

As someone who is in an allied health profession, I know that the health challenges faced by minorities are different than those faced by the rest of society. Yes, there are certain diseases that are endemic in various communities (Sickle-Cell Anemia among African-Americans and Tay-Sachs among Jews), but socioeconomic conditions almost always contribute to worse health outcomes as well. For instance, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in some neighborhoods while fast-food is readily available affects poorer Americans more than others. Scarcity of affordable housing and healthcare as well as substandard education can also contribute to the problem.

An article published last week on http://www.nbcnews.com highlights a recent statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) that calls racism a “serious threat” to public health. In particular, the CDC claims that racism has “profound and negative impact on communities of color” and is contributing to disproportionate mortality rates among people of color. The article is worth a read for its explanation of why exactly this is an issue. Racism in our society has contributed to the very challenges listed above. One cannot help but pause to consider why minority groups suffer worse health outcomes across a variety diseases (when comparing apples to apples).

I have not read the report from the CDC yet, but from my experience as a personal trainer I know that people from lower socio-economic status are less likely to be able to afford a gym membership, fitness equipment, or access to a trainer. Many minority groups find themselves in that lower socio-economic segment; racism since the birth of this nation has certainly contributed to that overlap.

As a country, we must continue to confront our sad and on-going legacy of racism. As we do, we will more fully understand the myriad ways in which it affects its victims. Ultimately, it affects all of us; as we have seen with COVID-19, viruses do not understand skin color, national origin, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. How is it then that minority communities were so disproportionately affected by the pandemic? Let us be aware of the role that racism plays in all of this; until we recognize it, we cannot hope to find solutions.

Extraordinary Times

2019/Paweł Jońca. Wall calendar.

We are in extraordinary times.  Judaism has something to say about that.

In Hebrew, there is a term:  Sha’at Had’chak, which roughly means at the time of an emergency.  I would argue–as have many of my colleagues across the observance spectrum–that we are in such times right now.  As you may know, in Jewish laws there are often various rabbinic opinions on observance.  Some positions are more stringent while others are more lenient.  During Sha’at Had’chak, it is permitted to follow a more lenient position if necessary.  Our tradition also records majority and minority opinions.  Typically, we follow the majority, but during these times there are those who suggest that it is permitted to follow the minority if necessary.
The overall guiding principle here is that we must do whatever we can to save lives; we are required (not just allowed) to violate all but three laws in Judaism in order to save lives; these are committing murder, committing a sexual offense, or denying the nature of God.  Otherwise, we must do what we can to save lives–and even to prevent illness when the chance of a fatality is low.

Most synagogues are following the principles of Judaism by adhering to the current CDC recommendations on social distancing.  This is why most congregations are not holding Shabbat services–or any services for that matter. We are all finding creative ways to carry on the life of the community, stay connected and sane using the technology available to us–some of which many will not use on Shabbat and holidays.  

Because of Sha’at Had’chak, most JCCs and other gyms are closed. They are also adhering to the CDC recommendations. That doesn’t mean that our fitness has to be delayed as well. There are many ways that we can stay in shape and maintain social distancing. I’ve been offering daily workouts for free through Facebook. The Mandel JCC here in Cleveland has virtual workouts several times a day that are free as well. Do some research. Find out how you can stay active and stay healthy. BTW, it is OK to get outside as long as you follow the rules there as well.

I pray that all of these measures will be temporary–although no one knows just yet what that means.  Once the Sha’at Had’chak ends, we will (God-willing) return to the regular activities in the community, perhaps with some adjustments that may become permanent.

Over the years, the Jewish people have faced massive changes.  We were thrown into slavery in Egypt and centuries later miraculously and spectacularly freed.  We settled a new land, were exiled, resettled, were exiled again and resettled again.  We have survived pogroms, plagues and mass murder.  Through it all, we remained true to ourselves, our tradition, our observances and to God.  

We will get through this with God’s help–and with each other’s help too!

Wishing you an early Shabbat Shalom!