Observing Memorial Day During the Pandemic

First, I reflect on my gratitude for the tens of thousands of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives so we can live in this great country.

Gratitude. If Memorial Day and this pandemic have taught us anything, it is gratitude.

So, today I have been at a loss as I strolled through my community today and could hear large numbers of people partying during a pandemic, the benefits of prudence and courtesy of social distancing dispensed with. Then, there were the pictures and videos of large crowds at the shore, in lakes and swimming pools, and at parks.

As is often the case, it is a child who has the best answer. Indeed, my fellow blogger, Ryland’s Newspaper published an excellent perspective. So, over to him….

Ryland's Newspaper

Crowds at Newport Beach, California. Photo: 24 May 2020
Newport Beach, California

Today is Memorial Day in the US! Many Americans consider Memorial Day weekend the start of summer and go to parties, go to the beach and hang out with friends. But due to Covid-19, we are supposed to practice social distancing and wear masks in even a small crowd.

Lots of people are following the rules but unfortunately some people aren’t. In Florida, hundreds of people were gathered at Daytona Beach on Saturday. In Missouri, bars at the Lake of Ozarks were packed with people. And in California, huge crowds of people gathered at Newport Beach. As you can see in the picture, none of these people are practicing social distancing and most of them are not even wearing masks!

So why is this a problem? Well, Dr. Deborah Birx, the US coronavirus task force chief said, “We really want to be clear all the time that…

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Bearing Witness, Children Create Newspapers

Maly Przegelad

As difficult as the current pandemic is for adults to comprehend, one can only imagine what it must be like for children. To help and inform children two large papers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, created a section for and by their youngest audience.

 

Washington Post

Back in April 2000, the Washington Post conceived of its own section for and by children, KidsPost. With the current pandemic, children everywhere are asking questions, such as what will end the the quarantine and what social distancing is. (The previous post described three world leaders answering the questions and concerns of children.)

To mark the 20th anniversary of KidsPost, the editors profiled 12 children “from around the world who have noticed problems in their communities or countries and are working to solve them.” Continues Christina Barron, KidsPost editor, “They have fostered abandoned kittens, collected eyeglasses for those who can’t afford them and created artwork for the apartments of people moving out of homelessness. And they have raised awareness of countless issues, including hunger, gun violence and bullying.” The twelve are the following:

  • Shana Grant, Washington, DC. Gun control and nonviolence
  • Kauã Rodolfo, Brazil. Environmental awareness
  • Maimouna Ndiaye, Mali. Girls in programming
  • William Winslow, California. Childhood hunger
  • Haaziq Kazi, India. Ocean trash
  • Genesis Butler, California. Animal rights
  • Naudia Greenwalt and Linkin Eger, Wisconsin. Childhood cancer
  • Sidney Keys III, Illinois. Enhancing literacy among boys
  • Milena Radoytseva, Bulgaria. Improving online behavior
  • Demetri Sideva, Florida. Protecting Tampa Bay waterways
  • Alice Imbastari, Italy. Picking up trash

 

Children’s Newspapers

Adrian GrycukTablica_Mały_przegląd_Pałac_Mostowskich_Nowolipki

This plaque commemorates Maly Przeglad, the newspaper for and by children that Janusz Korczak started. Photo by Adrian Grycuk, in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most remarkably, KidsPost featured newspapers that children themselves have started. “There’s little chance you will forget the home quarantine of 2020. But the details will fade over time—unless you create something that lasts. Kids around the country are doing just that by making their own newspapers,” the authors say. “They’ve become reporters, photographers, editors, art directors, and even cartoonists. And they are doing what good journalists do: keeping their communities (or maybe just their families) informed and entertained.” The young creators discuss what they can do during the quarantine, find humor in writing about their siblings, advocate the purchase of fair-trade chocolate, tell about caring for a pet. One writer went a step further, creating a news website, Ryland’s Newspaper, with news, comics, and puzzles. This page is honored to follow this remarkable publication.

Their contributions offer a ray of positivity and hope. I am reminded of the efforts of Janusz Korczak (1878-1942). A Polish pediatrician and orphanage director who dedicated himself to the rights and dignity of children, he founded a newspaper, Mały Przegląd (Little Review), written and produced by children. Just as children are learning from caring adults, adults themselves can learn a lot by listening to the voices of children!

 

The New York Times

The former, for its Sunday, May 14, 2017, edition, created a special section, New York Times for Kids. Although the section has pieces by professional writers, Caitlin Roper, a school teacher who conceived the idea, “wanted to make sure to feature children’s voices, too … It captures where kids are at and what they’re caring about.” For the second edition, which appeared November, the paper hired its first junior columnist, Harper Ediger. To this day, the section comes with a warning: “Editors Note: This section should not be read by grown-ups!” Starting 2018, the Times for Kids became a monthly feature. It’s entertaining and informative. And, yes, there are fart jokes.

In This Time of Crisis, Three World Leaders Give Children a Voice

children have a voice Easter Bunny is essential

Children have a voice. And they need to express that voice and caring adults who listen.

In his orphanage, Janusz Korczak created a Children’s Court. There, the students upheld the school’s constitution by acting as judge and jury of their peers. Even if the court comprised only teachers and administrators, the message would have been the responsibility to the community. With the children themselves acting in these roles, it was they who led in maintaining their community.

Fred Rogers was another beloved figure who took children—what they said and how they felt – seriously. He related to their fears, concerns, and sadness in everyday situations. And he addressed frightened children publicly during times of profound crisis: in 1968, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; in 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on live TV; in 2001, with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The heads of state of three countries, Norway, New Zealand, and Finland have followed these examples.

 

Norway

Prime Minister Erna Solberg in March 2020 held a press conference to address the worries of children in her country. “Many children think it is scary,” Ms Solberg said, “It is okay to be scared when so many things happen at the same time.” She reminded children that they are not at high risk of suffering major ill effects, but they can play an important part to protect older people and others who are vulnerable. She held a second telecast in April, after which she answered questions, such as when they would be able to visit their grandparents again. Norway has national day, May 17, as a celebration of children.

 

New Zealand

Declaring the Easter Bunny an essential worker, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern ensured that springtime would still hold magic for her country’s children. Even before then, in March, the Prime Minister convened a conference to address the fears of children. “Kids ask a lot of questions most of the time, and right now they understandably have plenty about COVID-19,” said the Prime Minister. Accompanying her was a child-development specialist, Dr. Michelle Dickinson. “The kids just had questions about the virus, how they are transmitted, how to keep their grandparents safe, how does soap work,” she said.

 

Finland

On Friday, April 24, the Government of Finland, comprising Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Minister of Education Li Andersson, and Minister of Science and Culture Hanna Kosonen, dedicated a time to answer from children ages 7 to 12. They have many concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. What does the pandemic mean? When can we go back to school? What about those of us graduating?

This is Finland’s National Child Strategy. Based on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), itself inspired by the teachings of Janusz Korczak, the initiative sets out to “formulate a vision for a child and family-friendly Finland that spans government terms and crosses administrative boundaries. The Child Strategy will be based on information and research evidence, and it will promote the implementation of the CRC.”

In this time of crisis, three world leaders gave children a voice. What did they have in common? They were all women. And back in March, for the sake of the children of America, our future, I hoped, I thought a woman would be next… to be our next leader.

 

Addendum: The New York Times on Friday, May 1, published an editorial recognizing three outstanding leaders. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand is one of them. The others are Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. All three are women.

761 Days at Home in Hiding

Anne_Frank_House_Model_AlexisIsrael

This model shows the annex, where Anne Frank and seven others spent 761 days in hiding. The secret annex could be reached only behind a sliding bookshelf, on the second level, as shown in the center of the model. Photo by Alexisrael, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

“I wander from one room to the next, down the stairs and back up again and feel like a songbird that has had its wings torn off and flies against the bars of its cage in total darkness,” wrote Anne Frank in her diary. Her Sunday, October 29, 1943, continues: “Outside, fresh air and laughter, a voice inside me screams; I don’t even try to answer anymore, I lie down on a divan and sleep in order to shorten the time, the silence,  the terrible fear too, because there is no question of killing them.”

 

For Anne, boredom was not the only challenge she faced. From July 6, 1942, though August 3, 1944, the group faced the ever-present terror of being discovered by the Nazis and deported to the concentration and death camps. “Why do I always think and dream the most awful things and want to scream in terror,” wrote Anne on Dec 29, 1943. A typical day in the annex began at 6:45 a.m. and ended with sundown, when the windows had to be blacked out. Each morning, everyone had to keep quiet until 9:00 a.m., when the workers arrived. Even the slightest sound before then could give them away.

 

Now, in 2020, those of us in hour homes can take an interactive virtual tour of the Anne Frank House. The museum nowadays itself is largely empty of furnishings. The details were reconstructed on a set in 1999.

 

Back in the 1940s, there was no internet, no video calls. There were no movies or TV series to stream. Radio was the family’s connection to the world at large. And radio was very much a luxury then. Before the Franks went into hiding, they were forced to surrender their set. “It’s a pity we have to turn in our big Philips, but when you’re in hiding, you can’t afford to bring the authorities down on your heads,” Anne wrote on June 15, 1943. “Of course, we’ll put the ‘baby’ radio upstairs. What’s a clandestine radio when there are already clandestine Jews and clandestine money?”

 

As we know, Anne had another way to pass the time and create something in the process. “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate,” she wrote on March 16, 1944.

 

On March 28, 1944, Anne found an additional purpose for her diary. While listening to the radio, the people in hiding heard Minister Gerrit Bolkestein’s appeal from London. He urged the Dutch to keep to important documents, so that it would be clear after the war what they all had experienced during the German occupation.

 

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

 

That entry was on July 15, 1944, barely two weeks before her last, on August 1944.

 

 

 

Suffering and Redemption – Abundance and Scarcity

Marc Chagall - White Crucifixion wood

An art book devoted to the work of Marc Chagall includes “White Crucifixion.” The original is at the Art Institute of Chicago. It can be seen on its website, at https://www.artic.edu/artworks/59426/white-crucifixion

 

Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion (1938) is an extraordinary work of art. It is the first of a series of pieces that show Christ as a Jewish martyr. In the background are vivid scenes of the destruction of the Jewish people. The painting beckons the attention of Jews and Christians alike. At this time of Good Friday, Easter, and Passover, suffering and redemption come to mind.

 

During a recent discussion, my fellow congregants and I were pondering abundance and scarcity, in a spiritual context, not in terms of material or monetary wealth, as these terms are commonly used.

 

Abundance does not imply a surfeit. Rather, abundance is gratitude for even what may seem small amounts. From that perspective, what is modest appears large. Abundance encompasses accepting within limits. Abundance involves faith, offering a sense of control through cooperation. It says, “I am safe.”

 

Scarcity, on the other hand, implies deprivation. There is no acceptance. Scarcity involves suffering, anger, fear, despair. Scarcity implies competition. It says, “I am not safe.”

 

We want neither an abundance of scarcity, nor a scarcity of abundance.

 

So, let’s get back to abundance. Abundance is an act of connecting, even in a time of “social distancing.” The Sunday, April 12, 2020, edition of the New York Times offers a whole section on helping ourselves through helping others, and vice versa. The first article, “The Science of Helping Out,” discusses how “having a strong sense of purpose protects us from stress in the short term and predicts long-term better health.” Another article in the supplement, “Don’t Need That $1,200 Stimulus Check?” offers a wide variety of ways in which one can put that money to excellent use to help society, which is what the check is meant to do. Donating blood and plasma to the American Red Cross is another option.

 

One of my favorite New York Times essayists, David Brooks, cited an article in Religion News Service, “Passover, Easter, Ramadan—and Interfaith America in Action.” As the piece points out, “Passover is about how a people who stay steadfast in hope can be liberated as a community from Mitzrayim, ‘a narrow place.’ Easter is the death of one paradigm and the rising of another. Ramadan commemorates jahiliyya, ‘the period of darkness,’ which is vanquished in the emerging light of the Quran.” A hospital caring for patients of Covid-19 is an act of cooperation among people of different faiths. There, people are “speaking freely of the sacred sources of our strength and solace and sharing these across lines of religious difference.” That speaks of abundance.

 

As in that remarkable painting by Chagall. Suffering and redemption transcend many faiths. It speaks to—and about—humanity.

Finding Closeness in Social Distancing, for Us and Our Children

Shunting Engine for Children (Knoebbels)

All of us who admire Fred Rogers immediately think of his famous phrase, “Look for the helpers.” I have indeed been guilty of this mistake myself. However, as one writer in The Atlantic says, the sage advice was meant for children, not the adults who should be setting positive examples, which is what Mister Rogers called on adults to do.

“Don’t just look for the helpers. Be a helper,” the writer of a CNN Health blog piece says. “One of the easiest ways to teach your children to be helpers is by doing more helping yourself.” She cites research to back her claims. A study in Nature, “A neural link link between generosity and happiness.” According to another study, cooperation “positively reinforces reciprocal altruism, thereby motivating subjects to resist the temptation to selfishly accept but not reciprocate favors.” The same applies to children. A white paper talks about the “science of generosity.”

The New York Times essayist Frank Bruni speaks of social distancing as an “emotional oxymoron.” Even though we must do our part to follow these rules, we can still find connections six feet apart.

Recognizing the extreme harm a lack of human connection can have, health writer Jane Brody urges people to call others, either through the old-fashioned phone or one of more sophisticated video conferencing apps. “My most cherished hope is that we not forget the lessons we learned during this time about the value of creating and sustaining meaningful connections with other people,” she says.

So, here are some ways to help:

  • Reach out. Call a neighbor, friend, or fellow member of a congregation or other community group. Videoconferencing allows people to see each other’s faces. A phone call offers a voice. Those options are preferable to email.
  • Search for a volunteer opportunity on Volunteer Match. Virtual opportunities are listed regularly!
  • Connect with neighbors on an online bulletin board such as Nextdoor.com or a local Facebook page. I have used the site to find a senior citizen needing help with groceries and a guinea pig rescue group seeking old newspaper. However, some neighborhoods are better than others, so experiences and reviews are varied. And be careful of possible scams on that site.
  • Support local businesses. A good place to spend some of that $1,200 stimulus money would be to order take-out food at restaurants. Buy books at independent bookstores online via Bookshop.org.
  • Give blood. The Red Cross allows one to search for a blood drive location by ZIP Code.
  • Donate money. Charity Navigator lists and rates charities by category. Most local food pantries are also in great need.
  • Adopt or foster a pet. Petfinder is one source for finding that next furry companion—dog, cat, or small animal.

Generous individuals and institutions around the world have made their art collections, theater, concerts (both modern and classical), dance, and operas available online for free; CNN among others has a list. Another source of free material is Google Arts & Culture. The Los Angeles Times has an excellent list of free audio and print books. You can find exercise and yoga classes, how-to ideas, and more on YouTube. One popular art form are virtual choruses and symphonies. These are essentially compilations of shared videos of individuals singing or playing an instrument from their homes. One that stood out for me is a rendition of “Va Pensiero,” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco. This is a gift from coronavirus-ravaged Italy to the world, made and sent with love:

Open Culture and others, including many public libraries offer free e-books and audiobooks, fiction and nonfiction, in nearly every subject for all ages. Prefer to purchase a hardcopy you can physically hold? It is possible to do so and support independent bookstores through Bookshop.org.

As we care for others, our sons and daughters, and ourselves, we must think about the children of the world. A youth chorus called One Voice calls adults to serve the needs of all children through our actions in a beautiful interpretation of Pink’s “What About Us?”

COVID-19. There’s no Excuse for Bigotry.

Summer Cloud Spectacle

 

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.” In 2015, in issuing guidelines  on naming new diseases and pathogens, WHO said that names matter; inaccurate or biased names can provoke backlashes against religious and ethnic groups, with serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”

 

This is about the proliferation of such names for the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” and “the Wuhan virus,” loudly proclaimed by officials in the Federal government and segments of the media.

 

Among others, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) expressed the deep concern of “our leaders actually stoking the flames and encouraging people to scapegoat.” She added, “The only result that can happen from … xenophobic rhetoric is to hurt people and to scapegoat a particular ethnic group in this country.

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The World Health Organization (WHO) warned against using the term “Chinese virus.” In fact, the these dog-whistle terms already appearing online. This Washington Post article explains it well.

 

Chinese virus… Wuhan virus… These terms deliberately target Chinese people and other Asians who “look Chinese.” It’s racism. It’s bigotry. This is not open to question. “The coronavirus is not an excuse to be racist,” said Samantha Bee, the comedian. “Tying coronavirus to China and Chinese people isn’t just a racist dog whistle, it’s a whole racist orchestra.”

 

See or Hear Racism? Speak Up!

The Southern Poverty Law Center urges people to speak up. The organization’s Teaching Tolerance project recommends a four-step model:

  1. Interrupt the conversation. Express that you need to talk about racism before proceeding.
  2. Question the person and remark. “Why did you call it the Chinese virus” or “What made you say that?”
  3. Educate the speaker. Tell them that the name COVID-19 was chosen carefully to avoid associating the pathogen with a specific group of people.
  4. Echo when someone else speaks up. Acknowledge and amplify the message that these terms are wrong and hurtful. The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute offers online training on being an active bystander.

#IAmNotaVirus

 

It’s real. Racist attacks against people of Chinese ancestry and other southeast Asians have been reported around the world. “Not only do we need to be afraid of our health, now we also have to be afraid to be ourselves,” said one Chinese-American teenager. “Coronavirus infected my high school.” A young woman was yelled at, threatened, and spat on by. The same New York Times article cited many others, including other Asian-Americans, “who with families from Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, and other places — are facing threats, too, lumped together with Chinese-Americans by a bigotry that does not know the difference.” A Huffpost article echoes this news and urges bystanders to speak up.

 

This issue also affects political leadership around the world. Representatives from the Group of Seven nations met last Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, but they couldn’t agree on a joint statement to release to the public afterwards. Why? Because U.S. Secretary of State insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus.”

 

More than 200 civil- and human-rights organizations have sounded the alarm, among them Human Rights Watch, the Anti Defamation League (ADL), the NAACP, and the Arab American Institute.

 

“Disease and prejudice have long gone hand in hand,” said the New York Times editorial board. “We can do better in 2020.”