Never just a number

writing, writer, notes


Stories, rather than numbers, are where we can find rich meaning in life.

The UK’s death toll has reached over 10,000 – in a little over 5 weeks. The sheer enormity of these numbers overwhelms each personal tragedy.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the youngest survivor of Bergen Belsen who had survived the horrors of the camps and witnessed the murder of countless people, wondered about the popularity of Anne Frank’s Diary. Later he came to understand.  It is the story of an individual. Learning about individuals and their own stories transforms the numeric horror of uncountable deaths into an identification with one name, from a statistic, to a person, with a life lived, and leaving people who miss them.

“Let us attempt to hear the individual stories of some of those who have become victims to help bring meaning in a time of crisis.”

Jews are forbidden to count people. During a census in Biblical times, a person was counted through the contribution of a half shekel. The Torah was clear, we count by the individual contribution that person makes to society. Treating people as a total number devalues them and devalues human life.

In the coming days it is expected that the numbers will rise as the virus peaks in this country. Rather than obsessing around the numbers and statistics let us attempt to hear the individual stories of some of those who have become victims to this horrendous pandemic, it won’t diminish the sorrow, but it will allow a life lost to have meaning and provide inspiration for the nation as a whole.

Published by Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch

Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch is currently the Senior Rabbi in Woodside Park Synagogue – a modern orthodox thriving community of some 1,400 members. His innate love for people and his empowering brand of leadership make him a well-loved figure in Woodside Park & London.

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