Rabbi Eric Grossman, Head of School

It is difficult for some to understand the outcry of teachers in Quebec asking to be vaccinated against Covid-19.  Prioritizing one guild over another grates against our societal sense of equity. We do understand that preference may go to those most vulnerable, such as the elderly or those otherwise medically at-risk, however it is arguable that, statistically, teachers are not at higher risk than others in society. However, the case for vaccinating teachers is not epidemiological, but moral.  I offer this argument not because I run a school, but because I was in Israel during the Second Lebanon War.

In the summer of 2006, I was in Jerusalem while war was raging in the north.  Like most of the population, I spent my days trying to function normally, manage anxiety, and stay safe; not unlike living during the Coronavirus pandemic today.  At night, I watched images of fallen soldiers beside yahrzeit candles on television.

The Lebanon operation met only minor opposition among Israelis, and there were small anti-war demonstrations in Rabin Square in its early days.  But once the war was over, there was a national outcry against the government.  The prime minister’s approval rating was, by one accounting, 0% (one newspaper that reported this statistic specified that the number was not a misprint).  Other Israeli wars had been unpopular—the Yom Kippur War, the First Lebanon War (dubbed by some the Israeli Vietnam)—but none before had met with such universal derision.  What had happened to turn the people against their leaders?

The soldiers had been sent to the front without proper protection or supplies to carry out their mission.  They were given neither sufficient mandates nor an adequate supply of weapons, protective gear, or food.

When called upon to serve, nearly all citizens are willing do their civic and patriotic duty, even if they question the decisions of their leaders.  Not all Israelis agreed with the decision to go to war, but all were willing to put their lives and the lives of their children, parents, and spouses in danger when called upon to do so by their nation’s leaders.  What they were not willing to abide was having the people who put them in harm’s way send them forth without doing everything they could to protect them.

Many teachers oppose the Quebec government’s decision to legislate them to work during Covid.  The decision remains controversial, but most educators understand that a government must make difficult decisions for the overall good of the commonwealth.  What many Quebec teachers cannot understand is how the same government that is sending them to the front lines will not do everything in its power to give them what they need to be safe and do their jobs properly.  If the government of Quebec has the capability of vaccinating its teachers—and currently it does—it has the moral imperative to do so.

Quebecers other than teachers are currently in danger and in need of vaccination; employees in other jobs and professions are also vulnerable.  All should be vaccinated.  But when determining precedence, workers whom the government have deemed essential and thus placed in danger must be given priority.  And while the sacrifices of soldiers, healthcare workers, and teachers cannot be reasonably compared, they share a similar consideration when their duty is mandated.

The Second Lebanon War prompted a cheshbon nefesh, Hebrew for a moral self-examination.  Since then, the government has committed never to replicate the neglect it exhibited during that time.   For those who perished in Lebanon, it is too late.  For teachers in Quebec, it is not.