Facebook Post by Rabbi Perlin in the Time of Coronavirus (5/11/2020)

Monday Post  5.11.20: Adapt, Migrate, or Die

by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D.

I don’t remember all of my middle school teachers, but I remember Dr. Crouch, our advanced biology teacher.  He was scary, demanding, brilliant, and challenged me.  He wore a white lab coat and had massive amounts of white hair on the top of his head.  He had a booming voice that silenced everyone in the room with his first word.  But, most of all, I remember what he taught me about the laws of nature.  In that voice I can still hear in my head, he would stand in front of the class and say, “All you need to know about living creatures is that we have three choices: adapt, migrate, (and then he would drop his voice very deep) OR DIE.”  The rest of the year, he showed us how this principle operated in all species.

When I became a rabbi and began teaching Introduction to Judaism and conversion classes, my favorite class to teach was the history of Jewish history.  In preparing my lesson one day in 1982, I remembered Dr. Crouch and his mantra.  From then on, I taught Jewish history the same way:  We have adapted. We have migrated. And sadly, we have died.

As with most creatures, adaptation is often the most prevalent and widespread.  Evolution is the ultimate adaptation.  Many of us may be products of family migration, but all of us are part of a Judaism that has adapted over time to a host of new challenges and changing realities.  That is how we have survived. And, we are not unique among humans.

As I sat reading the newspaper this morning, it occurred to me that Dr. Crouch’s choices are as applicable today as they were way back in eighth grade.  This pandemic, as all pandemics before it, is challenging society and human life.  There are few places untouched by the virus, and I suppose you might be able to migrate to one of them if you could, but that is not really an option.  And the death toll continues to climb.  Whether it is snowing in the Northeast or there is a heat wave in southern California, people are dying from this deadly virus.  And the virus is manifesting itself in a host of ways that seem to baffle even the medical experts.

But, the one thing all sane, scientifically based experts can agree on is that the virus will adapt, and so must we.  It will not go away overnight and it isn’t going anywhere for a long while, until there is something that can truly knock it out, that is scientifically safe and readily available to everyone.  All the wishing it away in the world is not going to do anything to save lives or sanity, as we navigate this new human adversity. And sadly but true, our global, industrial, technological society is responding not much better than we did a hundred years ago, when the last plague attacked our planet and its people, and we were in the midst of a world war.  Countries aren’t working together, there is hoarding, selfishness, xenophobia, and greed.  People are hungry, scared, and fearful and few leaders seem to have the capability of allaying those very real concerns.

Death has always been a reality in situations like these.  And those who migrated either had great courage or nothing to lose.  The true test of human strength, ingenuity, and resilience has always been how we adapt.  Some have been revolutionary and others cautious.  Some have been factually based and others based upon necessity. And the most interesting human response has come from those who took the new normal and did something radically different that changed the way humanity operated forever.

Today, I can tell you that I am the awkward 8th grader in a Long Island classroom.  I don’t want to die.  And not only am I not migrating, but I can’t imagine when or how I can get back to California and resume my bi-coastal retirement.  So, the only option I have left is to ADAPT.  So,  every morning over coffee and the newspaper I think about how I will need to adapt my life, my expectations, and my fears to face the day when the government decides that it is time to reopen for business, even if I am not ready.  And, this morning, no science in the world can tell me how I will do that safely and sanely for me.