The lighter side of lockdown

Looking on the bright side of the world-upending pandemic

 (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)
While there’s no shortage of dismal news, the glass is always half-full. Encompassing personal and family achievements, career shifts and communal hessed (compassion), In Jerusalem collected 15 uplifting stories about ordinary Israelis living through the coronavirus lockdown. Submissions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Mandy Broder, Efrat

Four years ago, following a health scare, my husband and I opened a workshop in Gush Etzion where we taught families how to create Judaica. The business took off, but the busier we got, the harder it was for us to focus on our own Judaica creations.

And then corona hit!

Suddenly there were no tourists, and being high-risk ourselves, we made the heartbreaking decision to close the workshop. This meant turning away locals who were looking for activities for their families.

How would we feed our four kids and pay all the bills? We realized this was the opportunity we had been waiting for: uninterrupted time to focus on our own art. Thankfully, we had just finished our website (mandybroder.com) and we started promoting our Judaica. Before we knew it, the orders started coming in.

We’ve had a real stretch of time to work on new ideas and sell some really unique and creative pieces. We’re making the most of every minute we have.

Amberlea Centner, Jerusalem

My husband’s aunt Ayala Yeffet, a pensioner living in Yehud, spent the first lockdown knitting incredible dolls and donating them to a hospital children’s ward. It helped her pass the time and deal with the isolation. It also provided her with intellectual stimulation and gave her a sense of purpose.

She is part of a group of friends who do this. The Bikat Ono Municipality is also onboard, helping with supplying yarn. They have donated to Asaf Harofeh, Sheba, Beilinson and other hospitals. They are also making woolen hats for soldiers. Ayala also knit 50 special bands for nurses at Beilinson so that they don’t have to wear their masks on their ears for hours on end. She didn’t only do it in the first lockdown, but has continued throughout the crisis.

Sharona Margolin Halickman, Jerusalem

I have been teaching a free weekly Zoom class on the biblical importance of Israel. Instead of only having students from Jerusalem, we have participants from all over Israel and all over the world, including friends and family members I have not seen for a long time.

I have also been delivering gift baskets to families and students who are in quarantine. I am helping people in quarantine stay connected with their loved ones who miss them and are worried about them. A gift and a letter can make all the difference. If you would like to participate in the Zoom classes or want to send a gift basket to a loved one in quarantine, email [email protected]

Gladys Hirschorn, Efrat

I am grateful that my granddaughter, grandson-in-law and great-grandson immigrated to Israel on September 23, despite the pandemic and lockdown.

Our family here in Israel – including myself, my husband, our two daughters and sons-in-law, and seven grandchildren – each helped to prepare their apartment, fill it with food and arrange to have perishables delivered the day they arrived. We cooked and froze food and brought it over before the lockdown.

I love the way we all came together to make their aliyah easier. We were not able to greet them at the airport or outside their building. However, our love and care was certainly felt by them and we all shared the excitement of them coming.

Eva Kesselman, Efrat

My husband did a beautiful project over corona. He distributed candy bags to 400-plus kids in Efrat who were in isolation. We usually have a huge sukkah-hop at our house, but obviously couldn’t this year. Instead, he brought the candy to the kids.

Rose King, Tel Aviv

At the beginning of this year, I had my future planned. In February, I interviewed for a PhD program in clinical psychology; this was something I had been working toward for years.

When I returned from my interview, I planned to take yoga-teacher training as a means to deepen my passion for yoga and learn philosophy. Then corona happened. For me it was a blessing in disguise.

I began my teacher training in March on Zoom, since the country had just gone into lockdown. After starting my training, I knew that spending the next six years in school in the US, away from my family, was not what I wanted. Instead I wanted to come from a more holistic perspective. I declined the offer for the doctorate and signed up for a life-coaching course.

During the last six months I began my yoga and life-coaching business, focusing on treating the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional components of the self. I work mostly in the area of relationships, beginning with treating the relationship to oneself, coming from an emotional and energetic perspective, rather than mental.

The last six months have transformed me into a healer. It sparked a beautiful and creative process I never knew I had, and I am so excited to bring this to others in the future. I believe I made the most of the COVID situation, and my story can inspire others to live their dreams.

Adina Kischel, Ma’aleh Adumim

My husband Marc and I both lived through corona. We got sick way back in the early days of the pandemic, before Passover, even before the first lockdown.

Looking back, we were very, very lucky. Despite being in our 70s, we had minimal issues – no intubation or breathing machines, just discomfort, low oxygen levels and really bad hospital food.

The amount of good wishes, Psalms and prayers that were said on our behalf was astounding. The interconnectedness of our wide circle of friends and family around the world completely dissipated any loneliness we might have felt.

During our hospitalizations and hotel stays, friends were constantly offering to bring us virtually anything we needed. They shopped, cooked and schlepped stuff to our hospitals and to the “corona hotel,” making our stays much more comfortable.

In the hotel there were ultra-Orthodox, National-Religious and secular Jews, and Christian and Muslim Arabs. We all ate together, sat around in the lounge together, waited on line to be tested together with no tension, no negativity and no competition.

For me, the one most positive aspect of this entire period is the opportunity to attend events literally all over the world [via Zoom/technology]. We shared events we never would have been part of otherwise.

Finally, the necessity to pray alone allowed me to choose more carefully what I would say and to concentrate more on the words and intentions of the prayers themselves. It’s amazing how many words and phrases that we had glossed over before have deeper meaning now that we understand we have so little control over what happens to us during our lifetimes.

Julie Rothschild Levi, Rehovot

I stopped sucking my thumb at age nine. I’m considering taking it up again. But since I’ve gotten braces twice in my life, I’ve opted instead to make goofy music video parodies for women with a “we can get through this plague together” theme.

Dolly Parton, Queen and Cyndi Lauper (“I want to socialize without this mask on. Girls just wanna have fun… ”) have thus far been reinvented, with the intention to bring some comic relief to the stress, uncertainty and sheer exasperation of this time. Since I currently have no outlet on stage, whether it be in an improv show or musical theater production, I turn to video to offer up a laugh, a smile or an eye-roll.

Lilian Susan May, Efrat

My husband has been suffering from dementia for nearly 10 years. He was a very impressive professor of physics who could not wait to retire so he could concentrate on research that had been in his mind for 50 years. Sadly it wasn’t to be, but he still surprises me with the things he knows. I love to sit with him and to share our last moments together.
Lockdown means I can’t do much else anyway. Lockdown makes me feel better about how my life has panned out. Lockdown means I can sit and do my embroidery, knitting and crocheting and not feel self-indulgent. It means not feeling jealous when I hear about friends going on exciting holidays or eating out in restaurants.

Lockdown has actually been good for my own mental health, surprisingly. I no longer feel hard done by [a Britishism for “unfairly treated by life.”] We have a lovely carer who is very cheerful, so we are not on our own. We have a pretty garden with a fountain and a good area for drinking a gin and tonic or a good old English cup of tea in the afternoon.

We were able to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary by holding a barbecue in the garden, strictly for family. We turned the water sapphire-blue in our fountain and had blue fairy lights brightening our almond and pomegranate trees. We’ve had a bumper harvest of pomegranates and have been able to offer them to neighbors by leaving 50 in a large basket by the entrance to the house.

Watching the wildlife in the garden makes us happy. Before lockdown we never would have thought of looking at the birds. Yes, I shall really miss lockdown and corona!

Shari Mendes, Ra’anana

In my role as founder and director of the Israel Lemonade Fund (lemonadefund.org), I recognized an impending problem as corona was starting to take hold in Israel in March. If public transportation was going to be canceled, how would indigent breast cancer patients without cars reach hospitals for treatment?

On March 8, the Israel Lemonade Fund launched the Taxi Rides For Cancer Patients During Corona program. Money was raised to pay for cabs to transport breast cancer patients to treatment. In April, the Inbar and Marius Nacht Foundation offered funding to enable patients with any kind of cancer to receive free rides to treatment.

Since then, almost 3,000 taxi rides have been provided to needy cancer patients so they won’t have to miss a single treatment. This program, which continues, has surely saved lives and is an example of the ingenuity of common citizens when faced with the challenge of pandemic.

Brie Reich, Beit Shemesh

We have a porch. Once a year we build a sukkah on it. The rest of the year we hardly go out there. The porch is a nice size, but we never used it. We were social, active people.

Until corona.

Once the pandemic hit, all those old activities and social outlets were removed from our lives, so we opened our living room door and walked out onto the porch. Suddenly, what was unused and deemed mostly unnecessary started to feel appealing and teeming with possibility.

First we put up a hammock. The kids fought over it like it was the most exciting thing to happen to us. We started to clean the porch. We played out there. We discovered fascinating things, like the plants that grew between the tiles. Where there is potential, there is growth. Inspired by those little shrubs, we too started to grow.

Our porch transformed into an oasis of beauty with just a little vision and investment. We bought fake grass, refurbished some old furniture, planted vegetables in planters, bought flowers and solar lights and a kiddie pool. We opened up our old ping-pong table. With a sense of desperate creativity, we actualized the potential of what we already owned and elevated it. It has been a thrilling sense of accomplishment for all of us.

Out of necessity, but with a sense of urgency and faith, both my home and I became much more than I thought they could be.

Tzippi Schechet, Modi’in

The “View from My Mirpeset [Porch]” photography project was inspired by the lockdown and by another Facebook group called “A View from my Window.” Jews have peripatetic genes, and if the airport closes down, there are other ways to experience new vistas in our Promised Land during the pandemic.

My goal with this group is to temper the cruelties of corona and lockdown by spreading bipartisan, aesthetic, Israel positivity via mirpeset vistas. It’s one way to bring our plagued land that includes corona and politics into visual harmony, at least for a brief moment. At press time, there were over 500 members.

Roxanne Weinberger, Efrat

I gave birth to a premature baby in July while in the process of packing up our house to move from Hashmonaim to Efrat. Our older daughter was home from kindergarten because of the high risk of infection. After I gave birth, until we moved to Efrat, we constantly received delivered meals and offers of help. And even after we moved to Efrat, we had meals brought to us for another two weeks until we settled in. Thank God, our baby is now home.

Hanoch Young, Modi’in

Almost everyone else I know has been complaining about how much weight they have gained during this period. I have used the time since the first lockdown to return to working out (yes, at home, while the gym was closed) and became totally focused on my nutrition. To date, I have lost 48-plus lbs. (22 kg.) and have gained more muscle than I have been able to put on in the last 20 years. And I’m no kid.

Due to injuries and orthopedic issues, I cannot run or bicycle, so it has been quite a challenge. But I keep going, even when it means doing weight-lifting exercises with a full detergent bottle.

Baila Zimmerman, Jerusalem

We are a religious couple who got married fairly late in life. We had hoped to have many children, but very early on learned that this was going to be a difficult road.

After our first anniversary, we applied to be adoptive parents. The whole process took close to two years. At the same time, we went through multiple rounds of very specific in vitro fertilization treatments that took a huge toll on my body. In February, we found out we were expecting. We were cautiously optimistic because this was not the first time we had received positive results, only to lose the baby after a short period.

Just one day before the government decided to impose a lockdown, I got the most amazing call from our social worker. A baby had been born that needed an adoptive home. Were we interested? It sounded crazy, me being almost at the end of my first trimester, but yes, we wanted to be that baby’s parents.

At the end of May, after an excruciating wait, we adopted our baby girl, and God willing, soon I will give birth to her sister.

It has been crazy to become almost instant parents during a time when we cannot interact with our friends and introduce them to our daughter, but at the same time it has given us more time to bond as a family. Our daughter has given us the greatest joy and blessing in the world: becoming parents. So even though we realize the difficulties everyone is going through the world over, these last seven months have been nothing but a blessing for us.
‘World in Lockdown’

Just days before Israel went into a second lockdown, Tfutza Publications released World in Lockdown: True Stories of Triumph in the Midst of Turbulence by Chaya Sara Ben Shachar, a book of true stories about how Jews around the world coped with the first wave of coronavirus.

Perhaps the most touching story was about Rabbi Yair and Geula Baitz, Chabad representatives in Limassol, Cyprus. There is no mohel in all of Cyprus, so as soon as Geula was released from the hospital with her newborn son, the couple started making arrangements to fly a mohel in to perform the brit mila. One dead end lead to another and baby boy Baitz was stranded in Cyprus without a bris for seven weeks.

Through the combined efforts of the Israeli government, the army and influential rabbis, a brit mila was arranged in a VIP lounge at a nearly abandoned Ben-Gurion Airport. The Baitz family boarded a private plane in Cyprus, flew 45 minutes to Israel, and immediately after the ceremony, eyes still moist with tears of gratitude, flew back to Cyprus for the festive meal.

Ben Shachar gathered emotional stories from all over the globe, including Israel, China, Canada, the US (Baltimore and New York), Belgium and Argentina. The stories reveal how families dealt with constantly changing guidelines as they cobbled together alternative celebrations for long-anticipated life-cycle events, parents coped with suddenly having all their children home for extended periods of time, yeshiva and seminary students dealt with hastily made plans to return to their home countries and more.

The stories in World in Lockdown all begin around Purim and include Passover celebrations unlike any in recent memory. As the stories in this easy-to-read collection flow, one is filled with an appreciation for how Jews worldwide helped one another weather the challenges that accompanied the first coronavirus lockdown. –R.L.A.