By Nina Lukin
During Passover, my Jewish family gave thanks for being “passed over” and protected from the plague, Not the plagues of Egypt, but rather Covid-19. I am not protected because I am Jewish, but because I am white and upper-middle class. I have a lifetime of intergenerational privileges: advanced education, financial security and health care access.
I am a small, fortunate part of the population and realize that socioeconomic disparities are exacerbated by this global pandemic; people are losing their livelihoods and their lives.
Financially, I am safer than millions of people in service-sector low-wage, low-benefit or tip-based jobs. This workforce had few labor protections prior to the mass lockdown and now tips will not count as income in their unemployment applications.
Physically, I am safer than the essential workforce of personal care aides, grocers, food service employees, sanitation workers, mail carriers, delivery drivers and public transit operators. They struggle to access affordable housing, paid sick leave, health benefits, reliable transportation and child care in normal times. With limited access to protective gear, risks of infection increase.
Poor and black Americans are disproportionately affected with higher rates of high blood pressure, asthma and hypertension.
Health disparities lie in the public policy choices we allow our governmental bodies to make. We can affect better outcomes, starting today.
How? Commit to learning about all candidates (not just the presidential race) running for office. Participate in the 2020 census online, phone or mail. Vote in the primary safely by requesting an absentee ballot, citing the Covid-19 public health emergency.
Seek to understand how society is entrenched with inequality by reading about bias in the health care system. Call on government to use racial demographic data collection in understanding the scope of impact.
Join me in advocacy by contacting New York's governor and the Erie County executive and demanding protection for these essential and vulnerable community members. Demand the need for continued funding for testing, ensuring no-cost treatment, deploying ventilators and lifesaving equipment to hot spots.
Passover requires us to recall the plagues that persuaded Pharaoh to release Israelites from enslavement. Jews rejoice in our freedom but also reflect on the suffering of the Egyptians and anyone in bondage today. I raise my voice to lessen the population in our jails now, while the virus is rampant. Some states have expedited the release of elderly and sick inmates; but more must be done.
Why is this important and how is this connected to the global pandemic? Because white privilege, racial and economic inequities are at the heart of everything.
Passover and Easter, both holidays of communal gatherings and hospitality, were celebrated differently this year. The Torah and the Bible state, “Love thy neighbor as yourself.” I hope we do not stand idly. Rather, repair the world that so desperately needs it right now.
Nina Lukin is the volunteer co-chair of the Buffalo Jewish Community Relations Council.