Being grateful in the time of the coronavirus

So – for what it’s worth, here goes: Reasons to be glad during a global pandemic.

A HAPPY face at a previous vegan fest. (photo credit: ROI SHPERNIK)
A HAPPY face at a previous vegan fest.
(photo credit: ROI SHPERNIK)
‘Skip,” my daughter said, the last time she saw me before our self-imposed lockdown. Tal’s municipal job has shifted to manning a hotline; her advice to the elderly includes doing physical exercise and gazing at the horizon. Squinting at screens and the kitchen sink for months will seriously impact our vision, it seems.
So this morning, Day Two of semi-isolation, I skipped. And as I jumped up and down on my deck in my gorgeous garden, I decided to do one of those “Gratitude Lists” – you know, like “A Hundred Reasons I’m Glad I Live in Israel” – just to stay sane.
So – for what it’s worth, here goes: Reasons to be glad during a global pandemic.
1) For a kickoff, so far I don’t know anyone badly ill with the disease. Cause enough for (somewhat selfish) celebration.
2) We live in an age of Baby-Zoomers: at least we can see our grandchildren on screens we normally try to avoid. We can blow virtual kisses and countdown the days until the lockdown is done.
3) We’re all in this together. Rockets have stopped flying; Bibi has stopped his gloomy rant about Iran. I’m not sure of figures, but traffic accidents must be down, and burglaries, and rape. Although – what a terrible thought! – domestic violence must be hitting all-time highs, and mental health issues must be raging.
4) Am Yisrael is unified at last. Settlers and left-wingers, Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox, all of us tune in at eight to hear our prime minister rolling out the latest restrictions, and demonstrating how to sneeze into our elbows.
5) Among the thousands of clips circulating in cyberspace about planting toilet rolls and planning tiyulim to the balcony, there is one about how for the first time in Israel’s 71 years of existence all cinemas, shops, public transport and bars will be closed down on Shabbat. And what is Parashat Hashavua? None other than Vayakhel-Pekudai, which begins with Moses gathering the people of Israel and reiterating to them the importance of keeping Shabbat. What Shas and Agudah couldn’t do in years, Corona achieved in a week.
COOL, NO? Well, maybe not quite so cool.
In the days when, leaders worldwide are imploring everyone to practice social distancing, here in the Holy Land certain of our spiritual leaders know better. Some venerable rabbis, not all, not most, but way too many, insisted that God has the plot and that praying to Him is more important than stopping a plague. If He wants it stopped, He will deal. Horrifying scenes of hundreds of fur-hatted haredim dancing cheek-to-cheek at a Bnei Brak wedding flooded the airwaves. My cousin’s haredi brother sent her a video of his bridal daughter celebrating her Corona nuptials in Jerusalem – a veritable game of cat-and-mouse with the police who kept coming to break up the party.
Kindergartens in Bnei Brak refused to close; many yeshivot remained open. I think there is only one answer for behavior like this: let the Holy One, Blessed be He, protect them from harm. If He dozes on the job, and one of His flock contracts the virus, let Him heal the patient. Would people who don’t believe in modern medicine and what scientists tell them want Intensive Care Units and ventilators?
THERE IS something else going on here that is cool enough to freeze our blood. Remember a few short weeks ago, when we woke in joy to find that despite all odds Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not reign over us until the coming of the Messiah, we gloated that nothing could help him now. King Bibi and his lovely Queen were on their way to jail. Without passing Go; without collecting $200.
Jeez. Who could have predicted that Corona would save his crown?
Things are turning ugly in Israel. Just when we need to trust that our leaders want our welfare more than they care about their tocheses on seats. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein kissed democracy goodbye. Does he miss living in the land of his youth?
Piggybacking on the belly of Covid-19, Edelstein moved to prevent the Knesset from kicking him out. He forbade MKs from convening because he knows the first thing the new parliament will do is replace him with a Blue and White candidate. Then the new, hopefully less corrupt Knesset will replace the chairmen of committees that control budgets, and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman will propose a law to expel Netanyahu from an interim government.
Edelstein and our prime minister don’t want any of that. They may be among the handful of people on the planet who are harnessing the pandemic for their own ends.
We have enough to deal with without wondering whether our headaches are from the virus or just from disgust at political shenanigans in such a time of trouble. But we are strong, we will deal with the disease, and we’ll demand to keep our democracy.
It could be worse: as my cardboard box of vegetables was dropped this evening outside my door, I had two thoughts. The first is that those sneaky gray globules tipped with scarlet tentacles could be nesting on my persimmons, waiting to jump into my lungs. The second was that the last cataclysmic catastrophe that our people faced was, of course, the Holocaust. Then, when parents said goodbye to their kids, it was not for just some weeks. And no one dropped food at their doors. The Jewish people, and the world, survived Hitler. We will survive this.
Who knows? When we emerge from our houses to swim again, and work, and play tennis and go to the opera and to bars, we might be too full of the joys to revert to terrorism and territorial wars. Maybe we’ll have learned how the world will live as one after all. Maybe, if we listen to the laws of the land, God will reveal to us that we don’t need another Messiah; we’ve had more than enough. Maybe the messiah is here now, making us all work harder to make our planet a better place.
It’s a nice thought as we stock up on tuna.
In the meantime, skip.
For more on religion and COVID-19:
The writer lectures at the IDC.