If there is one tool that has been most useful to me in this pandemic, it is the User Review. If you want to pick a restaurant for take-out, or decide what show to binge next, or choose among seemingly identical sweatpants on Amazon, you have to read the reviews. And if you don’t have time to read the Reviews, thank God for the five-star scale. The concept of rating on a scale of one to five stars has been around since the 1950’s,[v] but it became ubiquitous when Amazon introduced user reviews and suddenly all of us became critics. As the author John Green notes, “the 5-star scale has become a kind of background hum”[vi] in our daily lives.
For me, the background hum of the pandemic hasn’t just been user reviews. There is a question that has been constantly gnawing at me: “What do we owe each other?” These 18 months have called us to reckon with the ways we care for ourselves, our neighbors, and the world. And I have been blown away by the compassion I have seen from this community. I have marveled watching you show up for each other, even from a distance. And yet, there have been times these past 18 months when compassion has felt countercultural. The voices that conflate caring with weakness and venerate freedom above all other ideals are getting louder. But we know better. We have shown, time and again, that we believe it is good to care about each other.
It has not been easy. There have been times when there was conflict among our obligations to ourselves, our families, and our communities. Balancing these obligations has stretched our hearts. And I have muddled my way through, just as you have. Along the way, I have found certain Jewish texts and traditions helpful as I navigated these questions. I would like to share some of them with you, in the hopes that they will replenish your desire to show up for each other as you have throughout this pandemic. And because I want these texts to be as indispensable to you as they have been to me, I will offer them in the format that has become indispensable in our lives. So here are my thoughts on the ways we are responsible for one another, in the form of User Reviews.
The Quarantine Reviewed (Sept 7, 2021) was a sermon given by Rabbi Josh Fixler during Rosh HaShanah Morning services in the Barish Sanctuary of Congregation Emanu El in Houston, TX, a 2018 Selected Congregation for Scientists in Synagogues.