“Optimism certainly helps to combat the virus”- Special Interview With Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar

Only days after being released from hospital care for the treatment of the Coronavirus, the Chief Rabbi of Russia— Rabbi Barrel Lazar, sat down for an interview with Elena Veryovkina—the correspondent for “Interfax-Religion”. During the conversation, Rabbi Lazar shared his thoughts on how to avoid panic if one gets diagnosed with the virus, as well as his perspective on the possibility of vaccination and online voting.

“Optimism certainly helps to combat the virus”

E.V: Rabbi Lazar, first of all, congratulations on being released from the hospital at the successful conclusion of your medical treatment! How is the state of your health at this point? And also, could you please describe to our readers how you felt upon learning that you had the virus?

R.B.L: At this point, I am feeling quite well—thank G-d. Currently, I am still going through the period of post-illness recovery, getting back my physical strength. I am confident that within a short period of time I will make a full recovery and begin to feel wonderful, once again. I want to express my gratitude to the doctors that treated me, for their professionalism and life-saving work, as well as to all those that prayed for me. Their prayers were a tremendous source of support for me—the knowledge that there are so many people out there that took time to petition the Almighty on my behalf.

When I learned that I tested positive for the virus, I hoped very much that it would pass quickly and that I would be able to be home by the arrival of the Shabbat. Thank G-d that is exactly what happened. As a general rule, and as you yourself may know, a man of faith always places his hopes in the Lord, and therefore is always filled with optimism. And optimism (as the doctors themselves can confirm) is in itself already half the cure.

E.V: What advice can you offer to those that are worried that they might have been exposed to the virus? How can they deal with the feelings of apprehension and panic they might be experiencing as a result? 

R.B.L: First of all, if one has reason to suspect this, then it is imperative to immediately seek medical attention and get tested. Under no circumstances must this be taken lightly. Our medical system, thank G-d, has both the sufficient expertise and means to deal with even the most difficult of cases. As far as things that are within the power of the individual—that is first of all to make the maximum effort to be sensible, and of-course to follow the instructions set out by professionals. The best way to avoid panic is to make the effort to remain positive. And—I already touched on this point earlier—to not forget that there is a G-d that will help us, as long as we are willing to help ourselves.

Incidentally, the current virus outbreak is a reminder that humanity is not omnipotent, and there are things that currently we can’t deal with on our own. But if we turn to G-d, then He will grant us strength and everything will turn out for the better.

E.V: Now that the regime of compulsory self-quarantine has been suspended, it seems you are not in a hurry to re-open the synagogues. Are the (still high) daily stats regarding the number of infected individuals at the basis of this decision? Or is it perhaps the fact that currently, there’s still no fail-proof medication capable of treating the virus, or some other such factors?

R.B.L: We understand that now that the requirements for self-isolation have been cancelled, the time has come to consider reopening the synagogues. But we must do this with the utmost caution and care. Firstly, we must be able to provide social distancing measures, and this takes a certain amount of time to implement. Here, the main principle is “do no harm”—in no case must we take risks with people’s well being. The main thing is to guarantee to the best of our abilities, that no one will get infected. 

But, thank G-d, the general trend here in Russia seems to be such that the virus threat is receding. So, hopefully we’ll be able to reopen the synagogues soon.

E.V: How do you feel about the idea of a vaccine? Some reports suggest that one might be ready by September. Would you vaccinate your grandchildren, or do you think it best for kids to gain natural immunity by being exposed to the virus?

R.B.L: We view vaccination against any disease as something positive. The Lord commands us to take care of our health, as well as the health of our loved ones. So, if an effective vaccine is indeed discovered, then not only will I want my grandchildren and other family members to receive it, but the entire community.

E.V: In July, we are preparing to hold a referendum on certain constitutional amendments. Would you advise your congregants to vote online in order to avoid being contaminated at the polls?   

R.B.L: Voting is always a positive phenomenon. Participating in the voting process is the civic duty of every individual. But as far as how to vote—that is strictly a personal choice. I am confident that all possible measures are being taken to minimize the chances of spreading contagion at the polling sites. Perhaps the one group I can think of advising to vote online are the elderly… as well as people with health problems. As far as everyone else—I’d say, vote by whatever means they find the most suitable.

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