Rabbi at dedication of pandemic memorial says ‘Denial can never cure disease, and … distortions can never change facts’

Wednesday’s dedication of the state’s pandemic memorial closed with a prayer from Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Lexington’s Temple Adath Israel, who first read his adaptation of Archibald MacLeish’s poem “The Young Dead Soliders Do Not Speak,” written about World War I. MacLeish had the soldiers say, “We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. Wirtschafter said sculptor Amanda Matthews’ work “challenges us to answer the question: ‘What will these Covid deaths mean?’ Whether they are for a new hope, or for nothing, is tragically not up to those who died, but it is up to us.” Then he read his adaptation of MacLeish’s work:

“The casualties of Covid do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses. Who has not heard them?
They have a silence the speaks for them at night, and when the clock counts.
They say, ‘We were your fellow Kentuckians, your neighbors, your countrymen, your co-workers, your family, your friends. We have died. Remember us.
They say, ‘We weren’t allowed to finish our lives. Covid finished them.
They say, ‘We lost our lives, but who will bear witness to those who were lost?’
They say, ‘Our deaths are not ours, they are yours. They will mean what you make them.’
They say, ‘Whether our lives and our deaths will lead to real change and a new hope, or for nothing, we cannot say. It is you who must say this.’
They say, ‘We leave you our deaths, Give them their meaning. We were your fellow Kentuckians, your neighbors, your countrymen, your friends, your co-workers, your family. ‘We have died,’ they say. ‘Remember us.’ ”

In his closing prayer, Wirtschafter asked God to “guide our deeply divided state in the sacred cause of reclaiming our sense of common humanity. Teach us to overcome the anger, fear, hatred and recklessness that all too often made the hospitalizations and deaths higher than they had to be. Remind us that denial can never cure disease, and that distortions can never change facts.”

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