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"The Chinese virus"

05/14/2020 10:57:34 AM

May14

Rabbi Dan Dorsch

Is it wrong to refer to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus?
 
I have to admit, when this question was first asked, it seemed like an odd question. I watched a very compelling segment on Bill Maher. Quite correctly, he argued that many, many viruses, in history have been named for the place from which they came. This case was not anything unusual.
 
Then, Bill DeBlasio reminded me that our world today is a different place. Careless people only see things in black and white. I don’t know the Jews in New York who turned out in droves and made a dangerous decision to violate the mayor's order to attend a rabbis’ funeral. Why was I being called out? As a Jew, I certainly feel connected to my fellow Jews. We do share a common heritage and many values in common. But my value on the preservation of human life would not have led me personally - nor any Jew I associate with - to make a reckless choice to risk my own life and the health of others to attend a funeral.
 
I am not an expert in the nuances of the Chinese-American community. But I do know there are Chinese-American associations all over our country. Like Jews, Chinese-Americans are proud, involved, engaged citizens of our country. They are our neighbors and friends. They choose to live here because they share our common values. Their choices are not the same as the autocratic Chinese government.
 
Jewish tradition teaches us that we have a special responsibility to parse our words carefully. In a world where words are routinely dismissed as “semantics” or “being oversensitive,” these incidents can serve as serious reminders that what comes out of our mouths still matters. You all know the story about the rabbi and the pillowcase. Our words spread like pillow feathers to the wind. We cannot collect them once they’ve been used carelessly.
 
Has the country of China been negligent in this crisis? Without question. Has the country of China impeded measures and withheld information that might have led our country to be better prepared? Absolutely.
 
But Chinese-Americans, like all Americans, suffer together as a result of those choices. This is why we can’t allow COVID-19 to be called the Chinese virus.
 
Unless of course, you’re also willing to stop complaining about Bill DeBlasio too.
Wed, June 3 2020 11 Sivan 5780