From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: We Need a Plan

April 3, 2020


Doctors are worried that they are either at or near capacity at local hospitals. They are doing their best to plan for “the surge.” They say it might become unsustainable and they are pleading with everyone to stay home. Still, we see many cars on our roads. In our community, doctors are advising not to congregate in minyanim or celebrations. This endangers families and communities.  

A few weeks ago, I put out a call to private clinics for donations of masks, gloves, gowns and other helpful personal protection equipment. I made some headway, but it was already evident at that time that we are short on supply. I contacted Canadian manufacturers. They were begging for the government to give them the go-ahead to start immediate production. They were concerned that they would be forced to lay off their staff – before having the ability to retool and help our hospitals.

In the midst of this desperation, amazing activist doctors on the front lines are innovating on their own. One doctor advised me her group was thinking of ways of decontaminating personal protection equipment. I thought of my running friend who was a nuclear engineer and he immediately put us in touch with the nuclear folks who manage our reactors in the province. They are experts in this area and they jumped into action. I hope this was helpful.

Rabbis responded gracefully to my call on behalf of the medical community about our ethical responsibility. They readily volunteered their time and guidance and through this, we discovered that many of our spiritual leaders in fact have extensive experience in this area. While this is commendable, we hope and pray that difficult decisions and discussions will never have to be made. We are truly blessed as a community to be surrounded by consummate professionals.

As the reality of this pandemic sets in, many of us are asking how is it possible that our nation is underprepared for an emergency response such as this. Several weeks ago, our organization publicly called for additional financial resources for the most vulnerable in our communities. We are glad to see this has happened and the government is promising funding in nearly every sector of our economy as the crisis deepens. I am glad that today, our government offered more support for food banks and local food organizations.

We also require a plan grounded in human capital, not only in money. We need a national mobilization plan as significant as when communities were mobilized in the Second World War. A plan that deploys every able citizen to help, with social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home restrictions. At the moment, many people are feeling helpless and rudderless. We may need all hands on deck.  

I continue to be amazed by everyday heroes. Some people have begun rolling up their sleeves and helping. They are sewing personal protection equipment from home and sending them to health care workers; they are collecting food and distributing to food shelters – keeping in mind social distancing; and they have retooled their factories – not waiting for government money to kick in – producing face shields and other health devices using 3D printers.  

In this, I am reminded of the very heroes we often teach about in our programs – those refused to go silently into the night. One thing holds true in all of history – there were rescuers and helpers who used their skill and talent (or were inventive) to help those around them. Even Mr. Rogers smartly advised that we should always look for the helpers in our midst.

We also need a national plan deploying our military to construct field hospitals; training health workers and volunteers to treat patients and securing our food, health and water infrastructure. Creating reserve plans for a possibly prolonged battle is necessary for all nation states. Our greatest and most enduring resource is our human capital – our educated citizens who want to help to strengthen our nation and ensure we can get through this and back to normal. We are stronger together, and a plan of action can save lives, unify our country and get our country back to business at the first opportunity.

We can do this.

Shabbat Shalom,


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