My Word: Stopping to smell the roses of 2020

Even a year like 2020 had its positive moments, of course. Both on a national level and on a very personal level, there were good and bad things.

STAFF AT Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) sing and dance along with performer Ivri Lider to celebrate the start of the mass vaccination program. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
STAFF AT Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) sing and dance along with performer Ivri Lider to celebrate the start of the mass vaccination program.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It was not a good year, even for the roses. Early in the first lockdown I learned of the plight of agriculturalists who grow flowers. Some farmers simply stopped picking them. The flowers flourished but the market died, an economic victim of the novel coronavirus. With no hotels, no restaurants, no fancy family celebrations and no exports, there was nowhere to sell the flowers in large quantities.
You know it’s a bad year when you start numbering closures – first, second, third – as the seasons pass. As someone who doesn’t like change at the best of times – and this was not the best of times – in common with most people around the globe, I found 2020 challenging. OK, let’s not beat around the rosebush – it was downright difficult. I’ve never understood why the word “disruptive” came to mean something positive, a mark of something innovative or groundbreaking. The year has taught me to be grateful for what I have. Staying indoors, away from meals and events shared with friends and family, was hard; sticking in my comfort zone, on the other hand, is just that – comfortable. Don’t belittle it.
Even a year like 2020 had its positive moments, of course. Both on a national level and on a very personal level, there were good and bad things.
One of the best, and least expected, was going to Tehran – at least the televised version. As the world hunkered down to Netflix and rediscovered the magic of chess courtesy of The Queen’s Gambit, Israel’s KAN 11 was going places. Tehran, distributed overseas by Apple TV, is a compelling drama that turned into a phenomenon. The story – no spoilers – centers around a Mossad agent, Tamar Rabinyan, who penetrates Iranian capital in an effort to use her cyber skills to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. Some of the plot was far-fetched, but refreshingly there was not always a clear “them” and “us,” friend or foe. The portrait of the lives of brave Iranian dissidents was a fascinating bonus.
As the thriller and local events progressed, “Rabinyan” turned into a verb. A series of mysterious fires and accidents in Iran’s nuclear facilities along with the targeted killing of the nuclear scientist behind the project led Israelis to speak of having been “rabinyaned.” Truth might be stranger than fiction.
Another KAN 11 series was licensed by HBO Max. The dramatization of the Yom Kippur War, titled in English Valley of Tears (Sha’at Neila in Hebrew), became a surprising hit. Although fictional, the drama was realistic enough for every episode to end with information on mental health helpline numbers for those suffering from post-traumatic stress.
My favorite TV viewing was the Zehu Zeh! satire series, also on KAN 11, a resurrection of the team who were at the height of their popularity in Israel during the Gulf War of 1991. It was a pleasure watching the five veteran friends performing together after all these years, able to laugh at their aging selves – familiar faces with a few more wrinkles.
The never-ending press conferences on prime-time TV, each of the political talking heads clearly aware that they had a captive audience in a year of ubiquitous electioneering, provided perfect fodder for satirical sketches. (Four elections in two years is not democracy at work, it’s a sign of a depressingly dysfunctional system.)
The year 2020 was the year peace broke out, or at least normalization. This, too, was a good antidote to corona-induced depression. Having peace treaties in rapid succession is more uplifting than going to the ballot box again and again. The Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and the restoration of ties with Sudan and Morocco were good in their own right and an encouraging sign that the future could be a brighter one based on sharing knowledge, skills and markets. (The almost overlooked treaty with Bhutan is more problematic. The country is most famous for its Happiness Index, but its non-Buddhist minorities still find happiness and freedom elusive.)
Israelis flocked to Dubai. Before the current closure and tighter quarantine requirements, there were some 10 flights a day. There were even reports of Orthodox weddings taking place in the Gulf, a way to beat the ban on large gatherings back home. I laughed at the Zehu Zeh! sketch in which the rabbi was replaced by a local sheikh, because the UAE had decided to buy the Chief Rabbinate, following the successful purchase of nearly 50% of Beitar Jerusalem F.C. Even in a year in which the unexpected became expected the Beitar deal was a surprise. In the way of all good satire, the skit touched a sore point. I am happy to see many cooperative projects, but am wary of losing national assets and hi-tech advantages, as happened after China’s spending spree. True to its Start-Up Nation moniker, Israel’s innovations and technology have made their way around the globe even in the lockdowns. Beewise’s AI-powered Beehomes created a buzz among beekeepers, while computer superchip company Mellanox and transportation guide
Moovit, were acquired by foreign companies (Nvidia and Intel, respectively). Medical breakthroughs too numerous to mention also provided hope that we can continue to creatively meet future challenges, for the benefit of all.
This was the year when Zoom became a word with a capital Z. I sympathize with the students and teachers who struggled to keep up with lessons remotely, thinking out of the box. Zoom enabled me to watch some weddings and bar mitzvahs abroad that I would otherwise not have been able to participate in, but there is no substitute for being at a celebration in person; ditto, Zoom funerals and shivas made me cry but lacked the necessary human touch. Virtual is not real. The closure of my regular synagogue was a blow; a new community that meets in a local park was the answer to my prayers.
Writing this on December 30, I am aware that this year, more than ever, it ain’t over until it’s over. Just yesterday, for example, I had no idea that Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Esther, would finally land in Israel as immigrants, 35 years after his arrest in the US for espionage.
Coincidentally, as part of my what seems to be obsessive viewing of KAN 11, while their flight was still midair and off the media’s radar, I was watching an episode of the excellent Zman Emet (Real Time) documentary series. This episode explored the recruitment of Mossad agents and their necessary psychological profile. Pollard probably should never have been recruited. Without elevating their status, I’m pleased they made it to Israel and hope that they build new, successful lives here and that Esther receives the medical treatment she needs.
As the civil year drew to a close, I counted my blessings. Having a free, public health system is high on the list. Midweek, I went to a local sports arena that was converted into a venue for mass vaccinations against the dreaded disease. It was a shot in the arm in more sense than one. It will take years to get over the impact of the events of 2020, but the smell of rubbing alcohol and quick prick of the anti-COVID vaccination gave me hope that the civil year starting will be a better one, a year in which the smell of roses is stronger than the stench of the manure in which they were buried.
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