How to Bring Food into Your Home SAFELY in the age of COVID-19

A video about safe grocery shopping and takeout.

Preserving life is a Jewish value. The Hebrew for that value is pikuakh nefesh (peh-KOO-akh NEH-fesh.)

Human beings cannot live without eating, but right now we need to be vigilant about the coronavirus, a disease that is highly contagious and for which there is as yet no treatment or cure.

This medical doctor offers training on how to safely handle groceries, and how to handle groceries you are taking to someone else.

May all of you reading this be safe and well.

Sheltering in Place, Feeling Lonely?

Image: Person sitting on a windowsill, looking out. (Pexels / Pixabay)

We are living through an unprecedented time. A pandemic is traveling around the globe, a very contagious disease that can cause, in some, a horrible death. Many of our scientists say our best hope for survival is to try to keep the rate of infection down by sheltering at home, to keep the disease from overwhelming our medical personnel and facilities.

Know that if you are sheltering in place, you are doing a mitzvah. You are one less vector of disease out on the street. You are saving lives.

If you are out and about because you are an “essential worker” (medical, infrastructure, law enforcement, first responder, etc.) you are also doing a mitzvah. You are literally saving lives and keeping the lights on. God bless you.

If you are out and about because someone needs groceries, or assistance, you are doing a mitzvah, as well. Just be sure that you do everything in your power to prevent infecting others and to keep yourself healthy.

Staying home – or going only to do essential work – can be boring. Most of us human beings have an inborn desire to be out and doing, to be social. However, if we are not extremely aggressive about distancing ourselves from others right now, we will endanger ourselves, our families, and countless others. So what are we social creatures to do?

  1. Use the phone and video to connect with family and friends. I talk every day to my sons and their partners, and to my grandson. It breaks my heart not to see and touch them, but having some contact keeps it bearable. You may even want to set aside a time when you always talk – routine can be very comforting. Unless you really need to talk about something difficult, avoid arguments. Focus on sharing love.
  2. Use social media wisely. Use social media to connect with friends, and to learn about online events and resources that will sustain you. Do not repeat rumors, speculate, or seek out conspiracy theories, even for “fun.”
  3. Learn and/or pray and/or play with others online. Look for learning opportunities, prayer opportunities, and play opportunities online. I will list a few I know about in my next post.
  4. Revive the art of letter writing. You can email someone without any physical contact at all. You can write a letter to a friend — there is something special about a card or a handwritten letter. If someone in your circle dies, you can write the mourners with your memories of that person.
  5. If you know someone at home with children right now, contact them and ask if you can help via video, reading a story aloud or doing a “show and tell.” If they say “no, thank you” respect that, but it might be a real gift to a parent trying to work from home while juggling children as well. Teens don’t want someone to “read them a story” but they may still enjoy a chance for an audience that isn’t parental. With them, listening is the most important thing: they need adults to listen to how this situation feels to them.
  6. If you have a skill that might entertain others, share it! You can do that by making a YouTube video, or a tutorial posted to Facebook, or via a video chat.
  7. Reconnect: what about using social media to reach out to old high school classmates, friends from some previous time, to touch base?
  8. Exercise. I find that when I’m feeling irritable and lonely, working up a good sweat can lift my spirits. What you do exactly will depend on your ability and your fitness, but be creative. Also there are some great resources online for free exercise videos, etc.
  9. Take political action: Write or call your elected officials and tell them what you think of the job they are doing right now.
  10. Take social justice action: Donate or raise funds for local organizations that care for people in need. The income gap in our economy means that this is a time of severe injustices: homelessness was bad before, but now it puts people at high risk for COVID-19. Hunger was bad before, but now it weakens the immune systems of young and old alike. If you have any extra funds, share what you can. If you don’t have extra funds, you can still help by “signal boosting” on social media – share opportunities for others to do good.

If you have other ideas about dealing with loneliness, I hope you will share them in the comments.

While We are Home, Things We Can Do to Help

Image: Cat stares at a door, wanting out. (Krystyna Kaleniewicz / Pixabay)

I’m 65, with significant risk factors relative to COVID-19. My wife is 71, and has even more risk factors. We are doing our best to isolate as completely as we can. I am aware that I am a happier person when I feel useful, which is why I’m teaching more free classes. (See Growing Jewishly in a Challenging Year: Options for Study Online.)

Today the SF Bay Area county health departments asked everyone to shelter in place at home for three weeks beginning midnight on March 17 (tonight.)

Isolating is not a selfish or cowardly act. We are saving lives by staying home, washing hands, not touching our faces, not overloading the hospitals, and doing all the things the health professionals say. The example of Italy should be all the warning we require as we try to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic.

Here are some ideas for ways to spend our time and improve our lives and the lives of others while we are doing our part to flatten the curve:

  • Continue being careful at home – when were your doorknob and doorbell last cleaned with disinfectant?
  • Go through they rolodex or the directory on my phone – who do I know who may be feeling very lonely and scared? Give them a call and listen more than talk. Listening is helping right now. Reach out via email, if phones aren’t the best option.
  • On social media, I watch who spreads reliable news, and who spreads titillating rumors. I follow the reliable news spreaders, and unfollow the rumor mongers. I refuse to let their garbage work on my head.
  • Now is a great time to revive our spiritual practices, or to develop one: meditate, or pray, or exercise with spiritual intent.
  • Now is a great time to learn! Take an online class, use software to learn a foreign language, read, read, read! YouTube and other online resources can have you exchanging greetings in Hebrew in no time.
  • Public libraries often offer access to e-books.
  • Eat as healthfully as we can.
  • Get enough sleep! Sleep boosts our immune systems, and too many people are on a sleep deficit.
  • Exercise is important. Stretch, lift weights (books?), do a little cardio. I do 20 minutes of exercise every day. If you are in an apartment, call or leave a note to the people downstairs asking when the best time for you to make noise.
  • Tzedakah: for those of us financially secure enough to do so, this is a great time to give to charities that care for people with food or housing insecurity.
  • Do you have fantasies about writing a book? This is a great time to keep a diary: we are living through history.
  • We need to care for our pets. Appreciate their company. It isn’t a great time for cats or dogs to run around outside, though: if they get lost, we cannot go look for them.
  • Passover is coming! We each need to prepare according to our observance and our situation. (See Passover Prep: Begin in Egypt.) (More about Passover in a future post.)
  • Be kind to other members of our households. This is a stressful time, and it’s easy to get cranky. It’s a good time to practice appreciation and to let criticism go.
  • Find a synagogue that streams services online. Start with your local community but I will see about posting a list of streaming services in a later post.
  • Count our blessings, beginning with life and breath.
  • Be aware that there are some who are in difficult situations, with unpleasant or abusive housemates. Hold them in our hearts.

Ideas for those home with children:

  • Make and decorate cards and send them to loved ones (or save for later delivery.) Index cards or folded printer paper make great cards. “Junk mail” can make collages.
  • Reading to kids and letting them read to us – and to each other! – is a wonderful activity.
  • Beware too much scary news on TV.
  • Make puppets out of old socks, and rehearse a show for the adults to watch when they take a break from home-work!
  • Put music on – everyone dance!
  • This is a great opportunity to teach age-appropriate household skills to kids. Even little ones can “dust” with a cloth.
  • Set up phone and video chats for the kids with their friends and with family they can’t visit right now.
  • For older kids, this might be a great time to learn a craft. YouTube has lots of great videos, and both knitting and crochet can be learned with any string, if you have needles or a hook.
  • Use YouTube to learn Jewish songs, and songs from your family’s heritage.

Growing Jewishly in a Challenging Year: Options for Study Online

Image: A person sits alone with their laptop. (Image by 8212733 from Pixabay)

Are you trying to figure out what to do with yourself as you sit at home hoping to avoid exposure to COVID-19, or after exposure, in isolation? Why not invest some of your time and attention in Jewish growth? Coffee Shop Rabbi is offering some options, some FREE and one, through HAMAQOM | The Place, which has a fee attached.

I use the Zoom platform for teaching, so you can attend via a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

TORAH STUDYEvery Saturday morning at 9 am in a Zoom Room online, I’ll lead a Torah study session on the weekly Torah portion. Invitations to the class will be sent out on Friday before 5pm Pacific Time; registrations that arrive after then will get an invitation for the following week. This class is FREE, but you do have to register. First class meeting will be tomorrow, March 14, but you can join at any point.

TEHILLIM (Psalms)Thursday evenings, at 7pm Pacific Time. In times of trouble, the Jewish people have traditionally turned to the book of Psalms to express the full gamut of human emotion. We are going to explore the Psalms together. Bring whatever copy you have at home, and I will be working from several sources, including the new translation and commentary from Rabbi Richard N. Levy, z”l, and Robert Alter’s translation. This class is also FREE. First class meeting will be March 19.

I will teach in English, and will assume that students do not speak or read Hebrew. Absolute beginners are especially welcome.

To enroll in either free class, send an email to happy dot adar at gmail dot com with:

  • your real name (first and last please)
  • your email address
  • which class you would like to take
  • or “BOTH” if you would like to receive invitations for both.

You will receive an acknowledgement of your enrollment, and will be added to my list for a Zoom invitation.


Introduction to the Jewish Experience, Spring Term. Sunday afternoons, 3:30 – 5 pm, Pacific Time. In this 8 week series, we will explore the things that Jews worldwide have in common, and those things that are different about various Jewish communities: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi, American, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc. While there are other parts to the IJX series, this class stands on its own. To enroll, go to the class page on the HAMAQOM | The Place website. Fees are on a sliding scale and are listed with the class description. The first class will be Sunday, March 22.

Fasting With Esther: A Different Kind of Purim Observance

Image: Hands holding a globe of earth ( cocoparisienne / Pixabay)

If you have a good Jewish calendar, you may have noticed that on the day before Purim, there is something called Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther. This is one of the minor fasts – “minor” meaning a dawn-to-dusk fast, unlike the Yom Kippur 25-hour fast.

The fast commemorates the three day fast that Queen Esther asked the Jews of Persia to keep before she approached the king about the planned massacre of the Jews.

Esther bade them to answer to Mordecai:

“Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

Esther 4:15-16

The usual reason given for observing the fast is that it sharpens our enjoyment of the feasting and joy of Purim. The original fast in the story had a darker meaning. Esther was about to put herself in danger, approaching the king. Meanwhile, the king had put much of the government in the hands of a bad man, Haman, whose xenophobic policies were a dire threat to the survival of the Jews. (Esther 3:8-10)

Today the human race faces some dire threats, and the governments of some nations have wrongheaded policies that are not making matters better. Genuine leadership has been in short supply, and we are in perilous times. We face climate change and a pandemic, which threaten both our physical and economic health. Xenophobia is rampant, and religious persecution, including but not limited to antisemitism, is on the rise. Economic injustice is rife, and the income gap grows wider and wider.

Some may say, “What difference does a fast make?” It is an ancient way of expressing distress at a situation beyond one’s control. It is a way of consolidating spiritual energy, of altering our experience and point of view. Sometimes fasting can produce a slightly altered state in which we see things differently. On a larger scale, my fasting speaks to my own belief that only if those of us who have more than others learn to practice a little self-denial, a little moderation, a little willingness to share, we are all going to suffer terribly in the coming years.

When Esther asked the Jews of Persia to fast, she did not know what lay ahead. She feared that when she approached the king, he would be angry and have her killed. She knew that Haman had scheduled the murder of all the Jews only a short time later. She did not know if she could make a difference. In the story, she made all the difference because she stood up for her people and took action. When she sent the message, she may not have known what she was going to do, but after fasting and prayer, she had come up with an idea that worked.

There is a growing fear of the future among us, and with fear come great evils: selfishness, xenophobia, mistreatment of the poor and the homeless. I am going to fast to express my solidarity with the people who are currently already suffering, and to express my distress at the road I see ahead. I will give tzedakah for the relief of food insecurity. I will pray for wisdom, as Americans go to the polls, as Israelis try to find their way to a new government, as governments try to mobilize against the pandemic.

I am finding – not exactly comfort, but a challenging sort of strength – in the words of Psalm 46:

God is for us a refuge and strength,

a help found easily when troubles come.

Therefore we shall not fear when the earth changes,

Or when the mountains totter into the heart of the seas,

When its waters roar and rage,

When the mountains shake as the seas rise up – selah!

A river: its channels bring joy to the city of God,

The most holy of the dwelling places of the Most High.

God is in her midst, she shall not totter; God will help her as darkness turns towards morning.

Peoples roared – kingdoms tottered;

God gave forth a sound – the earth began to melt!

Adonai of Hosts is with us,

A high tower for us is the God of Jacob – selah!

Go, behold the works of Adonai

Who has brought barren places to the earth,

Abolished wars to the end of the earth,

Broken the bow and severed the spear,

Burned up chariots in a blazing conflagration.

“Let them go, and know that I am God –

I am high above the nations, I am high above the earth!”

“Adonai of hosts is with us,

A high tower for us is the God of Jacob – Selah!”

Psalms 46:2-12 (translation from Songs Ascending by Rabbi Richard N. Levy z”l, CCAR Press.*

(Additional note: I thoroughly recommend Rabbi Levy’s translation and commentary on the Book of Psalms, Songs Ascending. They bring the ancient prayers to new life.)

In the Face of Pandemic: Mitzvot

Image: COVID-19 virus against the image of DNA. (Pete Linforth / Pixabay)

If you are looking for information about COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) then I recommend you look at the FAQ on the CDC website. I’m a rabbi, not a doctor, and I’m sticking to my area of expertise: how does Torah figure into this picture?

However big or little a deal COVID-19 turns out to be, Torah provides us with guidelines for dealing with the situation. There are opportunities for mitzvot all around us. A few of them:

Pikuach nefesh (Preserve life!) – One of the most pressing mitzvot, one that outweighs even the keeping of Shabbat, is the preservation of life. What does that mean, in this case? It means that each of us has a sacred duty to stay informed and to follow the practices that medical experts recommend for preventing the spread of the virus: handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if we are sick with a respiratory ailment.

For myself, I’m not shaking hands with anyone for the duration of this thing, and I’m not going to give or receive hugs. It may feel awkward at first but I don’t think the risk is worth it.

Veahavtem et ger (Love the stranger) – Xenophobia (fear of strangers) and racism are always wrong. People of Asian descent have been experiencing a rise in anti-Asian behavior since the outbreak of the virus. They are no more likely to be a source of infection than anyone else. It is important that we not fall into such behavior or tolerate it in our presence.

Lo telekh rakhil b’amekha (Do not run around telling tales to people) – Make sure that everything you repeat is from a reliable source, and cite your sources. Don’t spread gossip or unreliable information. Don’t do it on social media, don’t do it in the workplace. Don’t speculate (“I bet they are going to start rationing Tylenol!”) because that can be repeated as a “fact” by someone careless and cause panic.

Give tzedakah – As with any other misfortune that affects the whole of society, the poor will be hardest hit. Contribute to organizations that care for and feed the poor. Malnourishment and homelessness make people more susceptible to disease. Anything we can do to relieve the suffering of the poor will reward all of us.

Bal Taschit (Do not waste) – Do not run around in an N-95 mask if you are healthy, unless you are caring for individuals who are infected.

CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it.

CDC FAQ on COVID-19

Those are just a few mitzvot that occur to me. What about you? Are there mitzvot you think particularly apply to this situation? Please add them to the comments!

Abuse Survivors: Surviving the News

Image: Person sitting on a bench. (Ryan McGuire from Pixabay )

Whenever there is a high profile case of sexual crime in the news, those of us subject to bad memories may have a rough time of it. Even if the news is good (justice is done) our reactions may pose a challenge, bringing up a round of anger, distraction, anxiety, or numbness.

I try to remind myself that I’m having a normal reaction to an abnormal set of experiences. In other words, my emotions are not some sort of failure on my part. They are the same emotions that kept me alive and that brought me to this day, and as such, I respect them. Any fault lies with the person or people who caused my injuries, not with me.

It’s up to me to cope with the situation in the present. Here are some strategies for dealing with a survivor’s responses to sex crimes in the news:

  1. Turn off the TV, the radio, and social media. We are not required to be 100% informed about every aspect of the news. There is no quiz coming. It is healthy to turn off the news when it is upsetting. Much of it is framed in a way to keep us tuned in (“After the commerical, we’ll interview so-and-so” ) but you already have the basic information, so turn it off.
  2. Make use of the comforts that work for you. Hug your pet. Curl up with a favorite blanket. Watch reruns of shows you find comforting. Exercise. Go outdoors. Walk the dog. Pray. Focus on work. Play empowering music. Do the things that have comforted or strengthened you in the past.
  3. Reach out. If you have a therapist, check in with them. Tell your spouse or partner what’s going on with you. Tell a good friend you are having a rough time.
  4. If you want advice, ask for it. If you don’t want advice, say so. The people who love us cannot read our minds. Speaking up about advice – either way! – is a way of taking control of our lives, and of being responsible for our emotions.
  5. Express your feelings. Write, make art, make music, dance, exercise, put those feelings out there in the world, instead of leaving them to fester inside. Don’t worry about grammar or making art for the ages, just express yourself. If a masterpiece accidentally results, wonderful, but right now just focus on getting what is inside OUT.
  6. Be wary of self-medication. Some things masquerade as “comforts” but don’t serve us very well. Be aware that alcohol is a depressant drug, and some cannabis can evoke paranoia. Many prescription drugs can be useful if used according to directions, but they are harmful if misused
  7. For spiritual resources, see Jewish Resources for Abuse Survivors. For many of us, the damage is spiritual as well as physical or emotional, so spiritual healing is part of the larger process of recovery.
  8. Finally, if you feel an urge to self-harm of any sort, REACH OUT. Call a therapist, or call the National Sex Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673) or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

There is a Jewish saying for times like these: Gam zeh ya’avor – “This too shall pass.” The news will change, the world will go on, the past will keep receding into the past, and with effort and support, healing can take place. Today is not forever.