Israelis venture out into a post-coronavirus world

As we begin to enjoy the old-time routines anew, there are some elements that would be a real shame to give up.

People sitting outside a barber shop at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda amid coronavirus restrictions (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
People sitting outside a barber shop at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda amid coronavirus restrictions
With a tentative step back to the future, Israelis gingerly ventured out Thursday into the post-coronavirus world. Many of the institutions that have been shuttered and have come to symbolize the two-month shutdown forced on residents due to the pandemic, opened their doors with an unusual combination of trepidation and relief.
Malls, open-air markets and gyms were all allowed to begin operating, albeit under Health Ministry-ordained limitations that alter the reality we used to know. It’s jarring to see barricades, police-restricted capacities, masked-clad vendors and people actually standing in line, but it’s also joyful to witness places like Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda shuk come back to life.
Hopefully the many small businesses, retail stores and market stall owners who have experienced severe financial hardships will eventually recover, with government assistance and a renewed and eventually robust clientele. But the profoundly sad stories of hardworking Israelis who have lost their livelihood and will not be able to return to their previous existence will be one of the ugly legacies of the pandemic that will continue to haunt all caring people long after the traces of this virus have disappeared.
Whether COVID-19 does leave our lexicon is largely dependent on us. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized when announcing the easing of restrictions at the beginning of the week, the country could find itself back in a shutdown very quickly unless everyone takes responsibility for themselves. That means observing the no-touch, two-meter social distancing we have become accustomed to, always wearing a mask when outdoors and continuing the regular handwashing ritual.
Unfortunately, as the country has opened up and people have been allowed expanded freedom from the 100-meter limit that was in place much of the last two months, we are seeing rapid amnesia. Amid the spring weather and the joy at returning to walking, outdoor activities and family reunions, many people have eschewed their mask, their Alco-Gel hand sanitizer and others are congregating in close proximity. To prevent landing back in home isolation, everyone needs to realize that the threat is still out there and we could easily return to our previous shutdown situation.
At the same time, as we begin to enjoy the old-time routines anew and slowly begin to put the surreal reality of the last two months behind us, there are some elements that would be a real shame to give up.
During the shutdown, there was a uniquely calm feeling in the country as behavior and routine were forced to adapt to the sharply altered rhythm of life. Yes, there was an alarming rise in the cases of domestic abuse – a phenomenon that needs to be immediately addressed – but there were also many surprising and positive outcomes throughout society that emerged.
The images of soldiers and police officers delivering food to haredi (ultra-Orthodox) families in Bnei Brak and to elderly people around the country revealed the innate good in the fabric of Israelis. Stories abounded about how families were sitting down to meals every day for the first time ever, aside from Friday night Shabbat dinner. Children and their parents developed new and deeper relationships (when they weren’t getting on each other’s nerves).
Neighbors who had never met spoke from their porches, and some held sing-alongs. There were no traffic jams, no horns blaring, the skies were clear of pollution and wildlife felt unthreatened enough to explore the parks and streets in residential areas.
As we return gradually to life before the coronavirus and gird for the traffic jams and harried commutes, sandwiches on the go, packed schedules and short tempers, let’s not forget the two months of enforced quiet and the slowed-down pace of life it introduced.
It may not be possible to integrate the pre- and post-corona worlds, but going forward we can remember the lessons of compassion, the importance of family, the wonder of nature and the balancing of work and leisure.
Those are the elements of the two-month shutdown that we should carry with us as we begin to encounter the unknown future that we’re stepping out into. That, along with a mask and some Alco-Gel.