Have I said anything yet about masks? No, I’m not talking about masks as in Purim or Halloween; nor do I have in mind something you would wear to rob a bank, God forbid. Not even as in The Lone Ranger or Batman. I mean the de rigueur face covering that we’ve been wearing the last few months as a protection from the pandemic. That’s a biggie. You can’t say much about Life with COVID-19 without discussing masks, what they’re for and people’s reaction to them. At first, the authorities who are supposed to be telling us what to do downplayed the importance of covering our faces, only to do a Netanyahu-like 180° turn and say we must wear masks outdoors and in public places. That may seem arbitrary; it may seem onerous; but it doesn’t seem hard to do. Place the darn thing on your face, adjust the straps over your ear, and move it up or down until the top of the mask is covering the bridge of your nose. Like many endeavors, however, there is one way to do it correctly and a host of ways to do it wrong. I won’t go so far as to describe your average Israeli as a virtuoso of doing things not exactly according to Hoyle, but many of them do work at it (as in, screw up a check-out line in a supermarket by leaving their cart unattended in the line while they run around the store to do more shopping – which is why I only do automated checkout). As far as how to mis-wear a surgical mask, Natania’s video explains it all.
Part of the problem of getting your rank-and-file Israelis to conform to the regulations is that they see their elected officials doing just the opposite. (I’m not even going to discuss the situation in The States; I’d make too many enemies.) Part of the total shutdown in The Land – which did help dramatically lessen the spread of the virus – was during Pesach. And miracle of miracles, most of Greater Israel cooperated, causing families to be apart and left many of our older citizens to be alone for the Seder – when we celebrate an even greater miracle.
Every year since we’ve been here, we’ve enjoyed the hospitality of our friends Ron and Esther, who host us for the Seder and whichever of our family members are around. Our part of the bargain is to provide the shmurah matzoh, always ridiculously expensive, and whatever wine we want – along with some special glasses that hold the exact amount of wine required for each of the four cups. I used to purchase two kilo of matzoh, but I had reduced the amount by half the last several years, simply because Ron got it into his head to bake his own soft matzoh, baked on his grill. (It’s an acquired taste!)
This year, because of the expected crowd at the Seder, I pushed my order back to two kilo, only to get the bad news that our joy would be greatly diminished. Natania and Gil, our son-in-law-to-be, along with his daughter, Liel, would not be coming to us. We would not be heading down the hill to Ron and Esther’s. Barbara and I would be alone, meaning a) I would have more of this overly expensive shmurah matzoh than I would need, b) for the first time in a L-O-N-G time, I would have to conduct my own Seder – meaning I would have to take the time to prepare, and 3) our friends The Levines, who usually show up for part of the holiday, would remain holed up on their mountain top up north.
Join the club. If the orders from on-top were, only nuclear family members who live under one roof at the Seder, that left a lot of people out in the cold again, especially grandparents whose main joy in life is connecting with their grandchildren. Some rabbis floated the idea that, in these extraordinary times, using a Zoom connection turned on before the holiday started might be acceptable. You know how far that idea went.
Certain people had a better idea: pull rank. That’s what our prime minister, What’s his name, did: invite family members who did not live with them for the Seder. That’s what the Israeli president did. At least Reuven Rivlin was somewhat remorseful: his wife died recently; he would be all alone. (It was OK if thousands of others in similar circumstances would likewise be alone, and maybe he should have been a role model.)
However, the worst offender was Yaakov Litzman, the Health Minister. Not only did he ignore every directive from his own ministry, he then completely disappeared from view, abdicating all responsibility for his ministry’s containing the virus. As a reward for his stunning non-performance, Litzman was allowed to resign and be reassigned to the Housing Ministry. Who can imagine the fun he’ll have there! I know they couldn’t appoint him to the Ministry of Silly Walks (that’s already taken), but, with all the new ministries that have been created, why not the Ministry of Funny Hats – perfect for Litzman – or the Ministry for Exploitative Chutzpah?
Speaking of which…. We all know that ‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’ What is less understood is that politicians also create a vacuum. (Only in Israel; no one would dare suggest that principle applies in The States. I don’t have enough life insurance for that.) With Netanyahu in de facto charge of Corona strategy, it was only a matter of time for things to go wrong.
At first, though, things here went beautifully; our infection rate and our death rate made us the envy of the world. No surprise, our prime minister took full credit for that accomplishment. But then came the hard part, opening up again, how soon and in what order, always a tricky proposition with lots of backseat drivers.
Restaurants? Shopping malls: all of the stores, some of the stores? Less-than-essential businesses? Schools? I wouldn’t expect anyone to get a perfect score on this examination. My good friend Richard Levine posted something on Facebook, and he and I got into an on-line pontification session about the wisdom of allowing clothing stores to reopen so soon (Richard, no; Fred, yes).
Then one morning I saw a photo on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. There was a throng of people waiting on line to enter one of the IKEA branches here in The Land. Well, I thought, all bets are off. Mr. In-charge, since you’ve allowed to open the equivalent of an indoor mall (originally all indoor malls were essentially closed), selling merchandise that is hardly on the I-need-it-now list, you have no choice but to open up everything else because what’s your excuse not to? The fact that the guys who own the Israeli franchise of the store are big Likudniks and have contributed heavily to your campaigns had absolutely nothing to do with your decision, because you are the soul of rectitude.
It’s startling to see how quickly something that was going so well can go off the tracks. Everything’s fine now, go out and play, that’s more or less what he said, Mr. Big-shot-in-charge, all the while refusing to put someone who knew what s/he was doing in charge and allowing that person to make the decisions and stick by them. (Again, that would never happen in The States.) Nor would he accept a strategic plan developed by the head of a party in opposition, waiting instead for the same plan when it was presented several months later by Gamzu, the guy who was finally installed as the ‘Corona Czar’ (although how much longer Gamzu can tolerate all the politicians sniping at him is a matter of conjecture). I could go on and on, but you see where this is going.
Understand that things didn’t go to pieces all at once like the Category 4 hurricane that, as I’m writing this, is battering the bayous of Louisiana. It gets worse little by little. One day, everything is under control. The next day, there are a few COVID cases, then a few more, then a few more. The authorities say, if the number of cases reaches X, then we have a problem and we’ll have to do something about it. But it’s like parents who tells their kid, if you don’t clean up your room this minute, you’re not going to summer camp (four months away). Well, it’s up to X+50, but if we’re patient, the numbers might go down soon. So, let’s just wait.
There’s one important Life Principle taken from the Arabian Nights: You can’t stuff the genie back in the lamp. Or, to bring matters up to date: You can only do one total lockdown; once it’s done, it’s done. You’ll never get people (as in, Israelis) to stay shut up a second time in their apartments with all their kids running around, with people out of work, with stores and restaurants closing. Don’t even think about it. It’s like an audition. You have one chance, one shot at convincing the producer to give you the part, or the boss to give you the job. Screw it up and you’re out in the cold again. (That line sounds familiar.)
You can be sure I was as delighted as the next guy to get the ‘all clear’ signal. We felt safer going to our local supermarket. We could go into Jerusalem to get a haircut (we’re funny that way). The clinic we go to for our chiropractor appointments reopened, and we could get our periodic adjustments. The shuk was reopened. Of course, all roads lead to Power Coffeeworks, and you’d better believe I headed there lickety-split. Yes, I’d have to take the bus and the Light Rail to get around, but, if need be, I’ll stand and get as far away from the maddening crowd as I can, all the while keeping an eye out for the recalcitrants whose masks are askew or non-existent.
All of us thought the worst was over, and then, as I suggested, things started getting out of hand. The death toll here in the Land has doubled in the last month. What would we do? Would we retreat back into our apartment, or would we say @&%$# it, grit our teeth and carry on as best we can? Good question; answers to follow.