Everybody needs a happy new year.
Rosh Hashanah arrives Friday, with fallish weather -- at least, that is the New York tradition.
I remember one Rosh Hashanah, we had visitors, a couple we love from "out west," and we went out for dinner to a Greek restaurant, a couple of towns over from us.
The weather was so early fallish that the restaurant had opened some windows up front, to let the crisp air enter.
A group of celebrants from a nearby temple was passing the restaurant. They were in a bouyant mood, and spotted the four of us at the window.
One celebrant asked the question you often hear on city streets from the faithful seeking to expand the flock:
"You Jewish?" (Pronounced "Joosh?")
Three of us pointed at the fourth, a Jamaica High grad a few years younger than me. The Judge.
That made the roving band happy and they began serenading us through the open window, shofar blaring. That made the four of us happy. We were home. In New York.
* * *
There's a lot of bad stuff these days. War. Floods. Earthquakes. And to employ the generalization, "politics."
But I'm taking the blue sky and bright sun as a Rosh Hashanah sign that things are okay, at least as I type this.
I'm sending out greetings to friends and to family, including my Australian second cousin Jen and her New York husband Sam, undoubtedly celebrating in their way in their lovely little village in Southwest France.
And to my New York-born friends, some of whom pop up in Comments on this page, who have made Aliyah, that is, moved to Israel -- Mordechai, Hillel and Mendel, and his NYC dad Ahron, seen dancing with quick feet at family celebrations.
And then there is this. Back in the day, Jean W and Jean R were friends at PS 131, not far from Jamaica High. They did stuff together, right through high school, went to separate colleges, and then Jean R made aliyah, to a kibbutz. After a time, Jean W visited Jean R in her kibbutz, and then showed us photos in a luncheonette along Union Turnpike.
The other day, a bunch of us from the Class of 1956. living not far from Cunningham Park in Queens, gathered for an informal BYO picnic, under trees that must have been growing when my mother and my Irish Nana were swinging me in the nearby kiddie park, still standing. Familiar park. Familiar faces.
As 20 or so gathered, we talked of others ("Good friends we had/ Good friends we lost/ Along the way" -- Bob Marley, "No Woman No Cry.")
And in the center of the group was Jean W, sitting alongside Jean R, back in New York for a family visit.
It made me immensely happy to see these two friends, as if it were 1950.
L'Shana Tovah. Happy New Year. It's universal, at least where I'm from.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.