I have turned into a frequent flyer, traveling all over the world – at least virtually. Some of the trips have been enticing flights of fancy, others more down-to-earth. Never has the global village seemed smaller than it does during these days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although I am one of those fortunate people who is still working and am not isolated at home, I jumped at invitations to join two different Facebook groups where members share photos of the view from their windows. Curiously enough, although the photos don’t show the image of the person who posted it, browsing through the pictures has offered an opportunity to do some people watching, too, and observe group dynamics. The views may be different but people are the same everywhere. And undoubtedly we all like “Likes.”
One group, with a membership of more than 1.5 million, has offered a plethora of ever-more stunning views. Perhaps it primarily attracts those who want to show the amazing locations of their homes or are eager to display their photographic skills. I have been wowed by panoramic vistas of oceans, mountains and green pastures. The smaller group also has a range of gorgeous views but it offers a more prosaic look at overgrown gardens, parking lots, and unremarkable streets – real life as opposed to artistic still life.
Some people have added a personal story – a birthday celebrated alone; a bereavement; yearnings for distant friends and family; a struggle with illness.
I’m considering updating my photo offering. This week I hung blue-and-white flags out of the window. Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, on April 29, is clearly going to be low-key and less festive than in previous years. Nonetheless – or maybe davka, for that reason – I went ahead with my annual tradition of placing flags when Holocaust Remembrance Day ended and I will keep them flying until just after Jerusalem Day on May 22.
The view from my window is not spectacular but it’s in Jerusalem and that alone makes it special.
I wish I could share also the aroma of the citrus blossom from the tree in the yard outside the entrance. On the other hand, the spring growth and blossoms occasionally makes me sneeze and I don’t think there is anyone, anywhere, who hasn’t wondered whether a sneeze is the harbinger of something more sinister, if a stuffed nose in the morning or a groggy, before-coffee throat doesn’t hide something more threatening.
I have other reasons to feel blessed in my very humble abode. The downstairs neighbors include a couple of extremely talented members of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and a music professor who is a gifted pianist – all working from home, of course. Unfortunately, we don’t have balconies from which to do those now ubiquitous performances and expressions of gratitude to the hardworking healthcare workers on the frontlines – my neighbors could put on a great show.
There are other wonderful sounds I hear through the open windows. The sound of silence is not silent after all. With much less traffic on the roads, birds can be heard all hours of the day and not just in the dawn chorus. The distinctive cheep of the swifts who glide in large flocks can be heard frequently, another sign that spring is here. I’m not sure whether there are greater numbers of swifts this year or if it’s my imagination because every experience has become more intense in the corona world.
Many members of the Facebook groups, and I’m among them, included a glimpse of pets – my dog and cat rushed to the window to see what I was taking a photo of. There are also pictures of wild bears, kangaroos, horses and sheep. Around the world, as people remain home, wildlife is becoming bolder and entering areas where previously they dared not tread, at least in broad daylight.
In Israel, there has been much media attention on the wild boar that are roaming near homes in Haifa and the jackals taking over Tel Aviv’s Park Hayarkon, the local equivalent of Central Park. Animals are becoming braver and searching for food as there are less pickings in parks deserted by the public and people stuck at home are more aware of their surroundings. The wild boar and jackals were there all along. People just didn’t notice them. Even my Jerusalem neighborhood has jackals, not everyone heard them before.
Another common sound in my neighborhood is prayers. With synagogues closed, people have taken to doing “balcony minyanim” or street prayers. As I walked my dog on the last day of the Passover holiday, I heard the pleasant sound of Hallel, the psalms of Thanksgiving, and I joined in. We all have reasons to give thanks and in the time of corona counting my blessings is a coping mechanism.
I couldn’t see the family who were leading the prayers from their garden, along with a neighbor in an upstairs balcony, but they invited me to stay on, sight unseen, for the rest of the makeshift service. On Shabbat, they put out a plastic chair for me, hoping I’d come again. It was a small but heartwarming gesture.
The distancing required by corona prevention is one of its most debilitating aspects. I’m making an effort to adopt a different name for “social isolation.” I prefer “spatial separation” as suggested by Shlomo and Sharona Maital in a recent issue of The Jerusalem Report.
Some of the restrictions were lifted this week – not enough for the people whose businesses have collapsed and whose income disappeared, too much for those most at risk and fearful of coronavirus’s deadly spread.
I don’t think the government had a choice after so many people who should have been setting an example set the wrong one. On Seder night, the vast majority of families abided by the rules and had meals without loved ones – small seders, some of them solitary affairs leaving widowed grandparents on their own. Then we discovered that the recently widowed President Reuven Rivlin had found a way to include his daughter at his table and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hosted his son while at least three other politicians had also infringed on the regulations in one way or another as we sat in our simple homes alone.
On April 19, some 2,000 demonstrators used a loophole in the regulations and gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for what has been called a “Black flag protest” against Benny Gantz’s intention to take his Blue and White party into a unity government with Netanyahu still at the helm for the next 18 months.
Time.com carried an article about it under the headline “Israelis Just Showed the World What a Socially Distant Protest Looks Like,” in which writer Joseph Hincks said: “It looked more like a flash mob than a political demonstration” due to the spatial distancing between protesters.
It was an impressive display of democracy. Or not. Many found it extraordinary that while prayer services were banned (they’re now permitted outdoors with up to 19 worshipers) thousands of people were permitted to gather in one city square, albeit observing the two-meter separation rule.
“Perhaps minyanim should be redefined as ‘prayer protests,’” my son suggested. “Then they wouldn’t be banned.”
The prayers of the Black Flag protesters weren’t answered and the deal was drawn up the following night. But the result was nobody’s dream government. Regardless of political persuasion, having an extra-large government of up to 36 ministers – with all the expenses that incurs – is not the best way to tackle the socioeconomic devastation brought about by COVID-19.
The incoming government needs to put its own house – or House – in order. And it needs to know that it is under public scrutiny from Left, Right and Center. Social media ensure there are fewer secrets. Everything is on display, for better or for worse.
Increasingly, I have come to realize that it is less important what you see when you look out of your window and more important what you see when you look in the mirror. Forget the uncut, uncolored hair: Look yourself in the eyes – the window to the soul.