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The Blessings We Would Not Choose

May 18, 2020

by: Ilse Strauss, News Bureau Chief

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The sound of the lock clicking into place echoed through our apartment with a thump of unfamiliar finality. My husband and I stood rooted to the spot, staring at the door we’d just closed behind us. Without saying a word, each knew what the other was thinking: “That door will only open again in two weeks’ time.”

On an otherwise ordinary Tuesday morning at the beginning of March, my husband and I went into quarantine for 14 days. We joined the ranks of some 130,000 people in Israel who were sent to their homes for the two-week period of isolation after being exposed to a possible COVID-19 coronavirus carrier in a bid to stop the disease from running rampant through Israel’s tiny population.

As we stood staring at the door that now sealed us in from the outside world, I dreaded the days ahead. How would we cope without sunshine, fresh air, human interaction or a change of scenery? How would I fill 14 days devoid of friends, coworkers, people to see, places to be and differences to make? However, as I contemplated the undesirably empty stretch of time ahead, I had no idea of the good that would come from 14 days of quarantine. I wasn’t the only one. Many Israelis who begrudged the idea of confinement came out on the other side with a testimony of the surprising blessings they reaped from the time they wouldn’t have chosen.

The Roads Now Taken

Quarantine and lockdown turned out to be the unlikely incubator for previously unexplored opportunities. “I started two online shiurim (classes/lessons) and a talk show type program that were really successful,” shares Rabbi Uri Pilichowski. “I don’t think I’d have the idea or the audience if it wasn’t for quarantine.”

Pilichowski’s classes—a daily Torah (Gen.–Deut.) TV show for kids and a talk show style interview program for adults—continue today, with great success. “I feel privileged that I have the tools…to help families through this.”

For others, quarantine marked the start of a long overdue journey. “I always knew I had a book in me,” says Yonni. “I told myself I’d start writing one day, tomorrow, next week—and a decade passed. But quarantine nixed all the excuses of being too busy—and I started writing. If I wasn’t confined to my house, my book may have remained a dream.”

Then there were the opportunities to savor the crucial things of the heart that often fall by the wayside as we run the rat race. “My baby is learning to walk and I get to watch every step,” offered Lahav, who lives in Tel Aviv. “It’s nice.”

All By Myself?

Perhaps one of the most precious blessings of isolation was the way it knitted Israelis together. It takes a village to raise a child, an African proverb teaches. In the same way, I—and thousands more—learned that you need a community to survive—no, thrive, in quarantine. Israel always has a strong sense of community, it’s population like a large, extended family. History has taught the Jewish people the importance of standing together, that the collective can accomplish—and weather—what the individual can’t. Although Israelis across the spectrum disagree on everything from politics and sports to where the best hummus is found, hardship has a way bringing the nation together to face the onslaught side-by-side. Family is, after all, family. Battling COVID-19 was no different.

“I recently moved into my building and didn’t know my neighbors well,” shares Rivka. “A day after my quarantine started, there was a knock on my door. My upstairs neighbor wanted to see if I needed anything. That gesture told me I wasn’t alone. In that moment I knew that I—we—would be okay.” Several more knocks followed, each from a concerned neighbor who wanted to let Rivka know she was looked after, cared for and part of a family.

The sense of community went beyond neighborly concern to perfect strangers lending a hand. Days after the first Israelis went into quarantine, the following offer appeared on a popular Facebook group: “So, is anyone quarantined and needs us to bring some groceries, and drop them off by your house?”

The trend persisted. On the evening Israel announced the closure of all schools and kindergartens, sending children home to parents who had to be at work the next morning, an understanding mother posted on the Facebook group, “If you have nowhere to take your kids tomorrow morning, contact me.”

Israel’s sense of community continued through the quarantine, and then as social distancing morphed into lockdown. Video clips emerged of thousands of Israelis streaming onto their balconies and cheering from their windows to applaud health care workers, coming together as a nation to lift up the arms of those at the forefront battling the virus. More clips emerged of the Shema (Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel,” centerpiece of Jewish prayer) resounding from balconies and windows to be picked up and passed on by neighbors until the proclamation of the one true God echoed through darkened, deserted streets.

As human contact and even proximity disappeared from daily life, Israel—like the rest of the world—found alternative ways to unite, meeting up virtually in online “venues” like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Facebook Live. Social media also became the platform for the faithful to gather across borders and the conduit that carried “the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3) into the nations.

A beautiful example of this is an international online prayer meeting—the brainchild of 21-year-old Israeli student Yarden Leitner—that rallied renowned international rabbis, including the chief rabbis of Israel, and half a million viewers around the world to cry out to God and blow the shofar (ram’s horn) in unison.

“On mad days like these, when everyone is locked inside their homes…we’ve decided that while the situation could separate us physically but not spiritually,” explained Leitner. “We decided we could…unite like the people of Israel have never united before.”

Blessed, Regardless…

At the time of going to print, the lockdown in Israel continues. With increasingly more countries following suit, millions are now in isolation. I hope that by the time you read this article, we will have battled and beaten the invisible enemy, looking at the coronavirus, infection, quarantine and lockdown in the rearview mirror. If not, may our eyes be open to the blessings to be had as we pass through this time we would not choose.

Photo Credit: Liudmyla Guniavaia/shutterstock.com

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