For Hanukkah: Eight COVID-19 silver linings

Running Uphill: Hanukkah is the ideal time to bring some light into the world

WE ARE spending more time in nature: Cranes reflect in the Hula Valley last month. (photo credit: MILA AVIV/FLASH90)
WE ARE spending more time in nature: Cranes reflect in the Hula Valley last month.
(photo credit: MILA AVIV/FLASH90)
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire world and on each of our lives. From Zoom schooling for our children to work-from-home for many of our staff. No social gatherings. No physical contact with anyone not in our capsule. Few activities outside of the house. And all the sickness and death.
The disease has brought to the surface the social ills of Israeli society, the anarchy that is our government, and the bureaucracy and disorganization of our social service networks.
Hanukkah is the ideal time to bring some light into the world. So, here is my list of eight “silver linings” – yes, positive things – that have come out of the shadows as a result of COVID-19:
1 - Technology breakthroughs
Remember when Bubbie didn’t know how to access WhatsApp, let alone Facebook or Facetime?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led all generations to have to use the technologies available, to communicate and to develop and improve them. Zoom was a basic meeting platform before the pandemic; now it is a world, with greenscreen backgrounds and private and public meeting rooms, easy video recording, sharing, live-streaming and more.
But the greatest improvement in tech has been medical. Doctors who were once reluctant to host video and phone meetings with their patient now do most of their consultations virtually. This expands access to care, and reduces disease exposure for staff and patients. And it saves time, money and protective gear.
A survey by the data and analytics company GlobalData, which was published over the summer, found that 79% of US specialists said that their use of telemedicine technology had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. And more than three-quarters of those surveyed said they would continue to use virtual care technology even if corona went away.
People started using fitness and wellness applications to track their health and pre-screen themselves in case of any symptoms, in many cases preventing or preempting serious disease.
2 - Cost savings
While the pandemic by and large has destroyed the economy and left more than a million people out of work, it has also saved us money. With non-essential stores and malls shuttered, we are less likely to splurge on clothes, shoes, jewelry or other non-essential items.
Restaurants do not allow public seating, so we eat at home.
Our kids cannot do after-school activities, so we are not investing in them.
There are few attractions, cultural events or other such activities. No movie theatres with buttery popcorn and snacks.
We cannot travel.
And as a result, we are saving loads of money.
3 - More time in nature
With all of these indoor activities closed, we are going outside more and enjoying God’s gift.
A survey by Scotland’s Nature Agency found in July that Scots took more outdoor exercise than before the pandemic – and would likely continue even when restrictions were lifted.
The authors of the survey encouraged people “to further explore simple, fun activities that can help nature thrive – from submitting sightings of birds, frogs and butterflies to swapping pollinator-friendly plant cuttings with friends and even learning to love weeds – a great food source for pollinators.”
4 - Getting to know our neighbors
Being at home more has created new extended families in our apartment buildings and neighborhoods. From standing on our porches to sing the Four Questions on Passover to holding Independence Day BBQs on our adjoining lawns, the pandemic has been an opportunity to get to know the people who live closest to us.
5 - Extra family time
Our family used to love to host Shabbat guests. We would sit around the table eating loads of themed foods while imbibing a good bottle of wine or two. Since March, we have had only two families over – and those were in May on Shavuot, before we rightfully decided that the pandemic had really not gone away.
Eating with other people, masks down for long periods of time, is a recipe for a super-spreading event.
At first, Shabbat was kind of lonely, but we have learned to love the family time. We sometimes play games together, go outside on walks as a family or do other such activities. If at first we cooked with the idea that “it’s only us,” now there are weeks that we make the same elaborate meals we would have if we were hosting guests.
We eat on real plates and spend time talking with one another about what we learned this week – and what we are happiest about.
The pandemic has taught us to appreciate each other even more.
6 - Mental health is on the table
The pandemic has damaged our resilience, and by all studies and polls that I have seen in the last several months, it has made us depressed and anxious.
On the flipside, we are starting to talk about it.
Talking about mental health is clearly very important, because surveys tend to show that people do not get help because of the shame and embarrassment they are afraid it will bring them.
“People feel shame about their psychiatric disorders, in part, because they’re exhibiting symptoms that are generally considered ‘bad’ – like sadness, inattentiveness and irritability,” explained an expert article published by the website ADDitude.
With everyone grappling with the gravity of COVID-19, people are opening up more.
Psychiatrists and social support centers are appealing for increased funds, which could hopefully continue after the pandemic. Ideally, new support networks and programs will launch to help treat those in need.
7 - We’re cleaner
I used to complain about how dirty this country was, whether it was people littering the streets, or the inability for public places to mop their bathroom floors and wipe their sinks.
COVID-19 has forced Israel to step up its hygiene a little more. The mall pilot protocol requires managers to wipe down everything from handrails to elevator buttons, to help ensure we don’t spread the virus.
But it will also reduce the spread of the common cold, seasonal flu and any other number of infectious diseases that used to dwell on those surfaces.
Let’s hope this sticks.
8 - Long runs
The pandemic has made us all a little stir crazy – and a lot crazy. For me, the answer has been a Friday morning 12-kilometer run on Jerusalem’s trails.
With long days, longer nights and no end in sight – no, I do not believe the vaccine will cure COVID-19 – I look forward to running more than anything else. An hour outside – with my music and my thoughts, without a mask, even without my phone – is the perfect elixir.
When the stress just gets too much, I know I can turn to my running shoes, lace them up and escape.
I have been running for more than 20 years. But COVID-19 has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have this free elixir that no one can take away from me (except the government in the first wave, but let’s not go back there).
THE PANDEMIC is a plague that has cursed the world in ways we never thought imaginable a year ago. It is so much easier to drown in the misery of the virus. But it is way healthier to look beyond the clouds to find the silver linings.
God’s promise is that after the rain there will be a rainbow. 

The writer is news editor and head of online content and strategy for The Jerusalem Post.