2020 Vision

Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu/File)

Woke San Francisco is awakening. The city that has lurched from liberal to far-left has had enough.

Last week, in a rare school board recall, San Franciscans overwhelmingly voted to oust their über-progressive school board members. In a city with only 6% registered Republicans, more than 70% of voters supported the recall and delivered a landslide rebuke of the members’ mismanagement of San Francisco’s public schools.

Even progressives have a limit. Directed by the school board and cheered on by the teachers union, San Francisco schools were shuttered throughout the 2020 school year. High school students returned to class for only a single day last spring so that the schools would qualify for $12 million in state reopening funds.

Students were forced to cope with one of the longest periods of online-only instruction in the nation, with the deleterious consequences that entailed. Meanwhile, school board members were busy renaming 44 schools that they alleged to have racist names, including schools named after George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and even Paul Revere.

This recall was long in coming. And it joins a flurry of activity pushing back against schools that have gone too far. Democratic-run states across the nation are bowing to parents’ demands and the dictates of common sense. And they are finally lifting mask mandates that have stifled children’s physical, social and academic development for almost two years.

As more studies emerge detailing the devastating mental, emotional and physical health consequences the imposed pandemic restrictions created, more people are pointing their fingers at left-wing policy makers. Many of these bureaucrats became hypocrites themselves in the implementation of their restrictions, which wreaked havoc with children’s lives. Suddenly, because the power of the vote threatens, Democratic Mayors and Governors are heeding similar calls.

Virginia Governor Youngkin’s victory this past November was a wake-up call. His victory was largely a victory of parents reclaiming their rights over their children’s education from progressive educators and teachers unions bent on advancing their own interests instead of the students’.

In a rare admission two weeks ago, even Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot linked the city’s surging epidemic of carjackings to the shutdown of schools. Lightfoot said, “Having talked to state’s attorneys who were dealing with these cases in juvenile court and others, a lot of parents went to work during the day thinking their teenagers were logged on for remote learning only to find something else.”

In classic “first defense is an offense” style, Lightfoot’s confession evoked immediate condemnation from the Chicago’s Teachers Union. They’re eating their own among tumbling public school enrollment, stunningly offset by increased enrollment in private schools, such as the nation’s Catholic schools, which largely remained opened during the pandemic.

However, what is most difficult to accept is the recognition that these imposed restrictions, including the school closures, were mostly in vain. A recently released study from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, which was basically buried by the mainstream media, revealed that the lockdowns had “little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality. To be exact, the study specified that “lockdowns in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average.”

So while the lockdowns had seemingly little to no effect on public health, they had enormous effect on the social and financial health of populations. Untold damage has been played out in soaring suicide rates, opioid abuse, bankruptcies, undiagnosed and untreated illnesses, the deterioration of relationships, and significant injury to children as the most vulnerable members of our society.

Which brings me to a phrase that became a recurring refrain in my mind this past year. Last spring, when the world was one year into the pandemic, I conducted a series of interviews with Rabbis for Hamodia to determine how diverse congregations were confronting the virus. The findings were revealing. But as the following year progressed, I found myself repeatedly returning to a statement by Rabbi Moshe Scheinerman, Rav and Rosh Kollel of Brooklyn’s Kehillas Bnei Hayeshivos — “A Jew’s spiritual well-being is as important as his physical well-being.”

It turns out that his statement was prescient. “Regarding chinuch, in the larger Brooklyn area,” he said, “it’s not a secret that everything in Boro Park and Williamsburg opened early on. I spoke with the head of a major chinuch organization in Boro Park, who explained to me: ‘Do you think we were kalei daas — lightheaded — about the inyan of pikuach nefesh? We understood exactly what we were dealing with and decided that the possible downside of not living life normally far outweighed opening up.’”

According to Rabbi Scheinerman, these “Rabbanim made a cognizant, proactive decision to save spiritual lives by permitting us to reenter the batei medrash and opening up the chadarim.” And he pointed to the “ad hoc government dictates” and the politics and hypocrisy driving many of the decrees.

Some of these leaders, in Brooklyn and elsewhere, were criticized and even vilified at the time for what is now recognized to have been the common sense and reasonable approach of leaders who have the good of their community at heart. Their concern for the sanctity of life was not any less than others. Precisely because they weighed the entirety of that sanctity in their equation, they kept their communities intact and flourishing.

After the initial hysteria that prompted lockdowns everywhere, these community leaders realized that following the science included human science. While Dr. Fauci flip-flopped and leftist politicians directed policy with a grip on power that turned into a power grab, they understood that a Higher Authority demands protecting people from abuse of authority.

And they were proven right. While adhering to normal precautions, these communities lived normal lives — they went to shul, their children attended schools and camps, they made weddings and bar mitzvahs, and they went to levayos. Aside from the unavoidable heavy losses accrued at the initial onset of COVID, they eschewed extreme and excessive measures that decimated other communities and did not notice differences in mortality rates.

As we emerge from this pandemic, there will be countless future studies analyzing the social, economic and political fallout that oftentimes irrational COVID-fighting methods induced.

While self-interest drove many of those failed methods, honest analysis will point to the success of those who followed “do no harm” in the true interest of their communities.

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