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  • Writer's pictureJodi Samuels

Rights vs. responsibilities

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

As seen in the Times of Israel June 25, 2020

The US with its focus on individuals' rights could take a lesson from Israel's book, in which life itself is the priority and young people are busy defending the country.

From my vantage point here in Jerusalem, I am shocked to watch what is happening in New York, the city that I loved to live in for 15 years and missed so much after moving to Israel.

Large numbers of protesters refused to wear masks and maintain social distancing. I was especially shocked at seeing a certain shopkeeper, who in a bewildering doubling down on the protest of wearing of masks, decided to only serve people who came in to his store without health authority recommendations. The “my body, my choice” motto has been playing out from sea to shining sea as the country turns into one big field of unmasked, social distancing defyers who are more concerned with their personal rights than the well being of society as a whole.

Pandemics test our societies. During pandemics, heroes and legacies are made — or destroyed.

While I wholeheartedly support the right and even the obligation to protest peacefully against objectionable and immoral injustices, I am aghast at the carelessness and the lack of concern for others. Throngs are protesting, shoulder to shoulder, as if to ask, “COVID what?” during one of the most contagious pandemics in history.

From my perch in Jerusalem, I see how the American mindset of “rights” has devolved into abject selfishness and an utter lack of responsibility for society as a whole.

Until recently, the United States offered a fantastic quality of life, opportunity and freedom of choice, but let’s be honest, the cracks have been showing for a while. Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, depression and unhappiness is endemic. According to 2016 OECD health statistics, the use of anti-depressants in the US was more than double that of Israel (110 per thousand compared to 44 per thousand).

Image: Jodi's son Meron - MADA volunteer age 18

America was founded on the tenets of individual freedom and rights. But to what extent have we allowed the disintegration of responsibility and values in the pursuit of individual rights? Has separation of church and state resulted in no church, no state, only me? Has God and responsibility to society been stamped out of the collective mindset?

It’s become all-about-me, solely focused on making me great. Only, this inward focus is causing the unraveling of the fabric of American society. We have 16 year olds obsessed with writing wining college essays and getting the best internships rather than learning how to be kind or impactful in their communities.

Has this focus on my rights, my betterment and my success made Americans more happy? Apparently not.

Israel for instance, this small country surrounded by neighbors that call for its destruction, consistently ranks in the top five of “happiest places to live” while America usually ranks 25 or below. A country with so much, yet so little.

Israel has a lower standard of living, mandatory military service and a government that uses the same measures of cellphone tracking to combat the COVID-19 pandemic on its own citizens as it does to surveil suspected terrorists. Yet it works because it is comprised of a population that understand, it is not about my rights, it is about my responsibilities. Instead of attending college parties and choosing their favorite brand of beer, Israeli teens are preparing for the army in defense of their country, nation and people.

In Israel, the value placed on one life is extreme: every single person of the 300+ coronavirus deaths has been collectively mourned. The Ministry of Health website lists every single victim with a brief bio. Every life counts.

Israelis would not stand for the death rate that America is tolerating. On a per capita basis, the US has three times the number of confirmed corona cases, but more than 11 times the death rate.

Pandemics test our society.

The “my body, my choice” philosophy implicitly means I do not care about the elderly or other at-risk groups I might infect. It means that I do not hold myself accountable to the collective responsibility of flattening the curve.

Israelis have willingly traded their rights and privacy in favor of the responsibility to society as a whole, doing their part as individuals to keep the contagion in check.

If Americans continue to scorn the recommendations of health experts of masks and social distancing that interfere with their “rights,” they will be left with the responsibility to pick up the pieces of their shattered reality after the dust settles from COVID-19.


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