Seventh place — High school essay contest: Laura Streminsky
God is the virus
FFRF awarded Laura $750.
By Laura Streminsky
In February 2020, I sat in a small Brooklyn studio apartment listening to a rabbi attribute the Covid-19 virus to progressive Jews. The virus, he said, is a sign of disapproval from God in response to the secularization of The Chosen People. His solution to the pandemic wasn’t masks or quarantines, but rather a religious awakening. I looked around the room expecting to find shared disbelief, but my fellow Jewish students didn’t seem at all fazed by the rabbi’s proclamation.
When people are taught to believe in faith as unequivocal truth, suffering is inevitable. We saw this in 2018, when anti-vaccination propaganda resulted in a large measles outbreak in Williamsburg’s Orthodox Jewish population. Even if rabbis encourage vaccinations (and many do), teaching people that religion has more merit than science breeds a distrust of institutions meant to protect public health. Similar circumstances are occurring now with the Covid-19 virus’ disproportionate impact on Orthodox Jewish communities. Governmentally mandated precautions, like those regarding masks and social distancing, are repeatedly disregarded because insular communities function irrespective of federal or state law. They act based off of unfounded beliefs, even if those beliefs contribute to thousands of people dying.
I’m fortunate that I wasn’t raised religious. My parents sent me to Hebrew school and synagogue for a few years, but they treated my early belief in God just as they had my belief in the Tooth Fairy. For my parents, Jewish schools were more of a free babysitting service than anything else. So, after I eventually outgrew my faith and my peers didn’t, it shocked me to learn that many of them accepted dangerous advice from our religious leaders. When I think of the rabbi’s words now, it’s hard not to think of my friends and family who followed their faith and then turned to God to heal their lungs.
I trust science over faith because science didn’t cause Borough Park’s hospitals to overflow with patients. I trust science over faith because science learns from mistakes, faith perpetuates them. I trust science over faith because science doesn’t wait for anyone’s idea of god(s) to fix our problems.
Laura, 17, is from Brooklyn, N.Y., and attends Boston University. “One of my biggest passions is animal rights,” Laura writes. “I will take any chance I can to fundraise for nonprofits that help neglected animals. As the leader of an animal rights club, I also advocate for environmentalism as part of my effort to minimize animal suffering. I hope to major in biology and eventually become a primary care physician.”