Don’t Panic, Pt. 4: Life in Lockdown

At my house, it’s more or less business as usual. I’m counting all my blessings.

  • I’m healthy.
  • I can work from home, and I have work coming in.
  • I like being at home; it’s my sanctuary even in non-coronavirus times.
  • I have a patio allowing me to be outside in green space.
  • My cats are happy to have me around.

Shopping

As of Thursday, Israel restricted people to stay within 100 meters (a football field) of their homes, except for necessary outings. Shopping is necessary.

My regular store had the basics, but I decided that I needed to go to Emek Refaim to pick up treats for myself and my cats. We’re going to be at home for a while.

The pet store was not allowing people inside, but served people at the door. We stood 6 feet apart.

At the fancy grocery store, they were limiting the number of people allowed in. I had to wait outside for a few minutes. The store provided disposable gloves at the entrance. It wasn’t too chaotic inside, but they were disinfecting all surfaces and stocking shelves (preparing for Passover). Shoppers stayed apart as much as possible.

I got some brie and a baguette – who knows when I’ll get the chance again. And the extra special thing I got was Lavender Earl Grey tea. I know, bergamot and lavender sounds like a flavor overload, but I’m telling you it’s wonderful and good for relaxation.

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YouTube is my BFF

I watch news from around the world. And then to recover, I need to watch a lot of stand-up comedy. I’m just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. I watch British stand-up usually or British shows – I highly recommend Graham Norton’s talk show. If you want stand-up comedy that has no swearing and no sex, go to Dry Bar Comedy (even the neck-tattoo guy has clean comedy).

I did one project so far. Success!

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I’ve also started using YouTube as an art course.

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I have no background in art at allbut I think these turned out pretty well. None are for sale at any price.

YouTube is also great at suggestions. My acrylic paints videos turned me on to dot mandalas. I tried one and I need to work on the process a bit more. But I challenge anyone to watch one of these videos and not be relaxed. I thought this one was pretty.

Human voices

I haven’t started giving my cats voices (yet!), so for human sounds I’ve been listening to audiobooks. Audible.com is offering free children’s books for all levels – you don’t need a membership (available in multiple languages!).

I’ve also attended a number of free webinars and I had a Tai Chi class via Zoom. I think I might do more of that!

Shelter at home – Kitty style

Hope for the future

I’m trying to see the opportunity in the adversity and really use the time this lockdown created. I’m not quite there yet – discipline and schedules are not my strongest skills – and the scrolling, scrolling, scrolling can be a bit addictive.

My wish is for all of us to come out of this lockdown just a little bit better than we were when we went in.

Israel Is Ready

Let me introduce Israel’s response the targeted killing of Qasam Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran, with two quotes.

“If someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him first.”
Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72:1

“[I]f an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. . . .

[A] Jew must learn to defend himself. He must forever be prepared for whenever threat looms. . . .

[S]tand united in the face of the enemy. . . .
Menachem Begin, 1981,on the lessons of the Holocaust

I scanned the analysis pieces from all over the political spectrum of Israel and found that for the most part, everyone is in agreement: Soleimani was a bad guy and no one is really sorry to see him gone. Israel will deal with the consequences.

Netanyahu says he stands with the US. The opposition also applauded the US action. Israel is on high alert and “braced for retaliation.”

From the left, the analysis asks how this assassination fits into a broader strategy in the region. After all, Soleimani has been on the US and Israeli radar for 21 years (and sometimes Soleimani suited the US agenda in the region by fighting ISIS). Bush Jr. and Obama both had opportunities to take him out, but chose not to. What goal is served by doing this now? Without seasoned professionals around him, does Trump have a plan?

I looked at two analyses from the middle-of-the-road news site. The analysis more to the left reiterated the question: “Is this strike worth it?” And reviewed the positions of previous US administrations. The analysis more to the right also mentioned previous administrations and took a jab at Obama’s conciliatory methods, which allowed Soleimani “to run wild in the region” and increase Iran’s influence. But it also brought up the age-old conundrum of whether it’s better to stick with the devil you know or go with the devil you don’t. He illustrated the point with how Hassan Nasrallah came to lead Hezbollah in Lebanon after the targeted killing of Abbas al-Musawi in 1992.

The news site the most to the right hadn’t posted an analysis yet, but did have a round up of reactions. Earlier in the week, in response to the US attack Sunday on militia forces influenced by Iran, they published opinions of former generals about what Israel can expect if Iran wants to retaliate via Israel. In short, the Golan Heights might be vulnerable and that would be a huge security threat to Israel.

Even though Netanyahu is under indictment for corruption and is trying to get the Knesset to pass legislation to give him immunity for his crimes, he still won the leadership in his party’s primary by a landslide. Still, he can’t get a national coalition together and that’s why we’re heading to the third election in a year. Even so, what Israelis know for sure is that Netanyahu has led Israel for a long time (with periodic legitimate elections) and he believes in Israel. He laid his own life on the line in an elite commando unit and his brother lost his life during the rescue of over a hundred hostages in Entebbe. Israelis trust that Netanyahu will not send the sons and daughters of Israel into pointless battle. Israelis will always choose to preserve life, which goes hand in hand with self-defense. Israelis also know that since the birth of the State of Israel our neighbors have tried to get rid of us. They didn’t succeed then. And they won’t now.

 

Real life beyond the headlines

Headline alert: “IDF kills Islamic Jihad leader Abu al Ata.”

Hmm. Ok. I have a deadline today. I can’t really look into it…

Message from the office: Dear Staff, please remember that the secure area in the building is the auditorium. When there is a siren, we have 2 minutes to get there. Please help visitors in the building who may not know where to go.

Hold on. What?!?!

When I arrived at the office on Tuesday morning, a few of the staff had brought their kids in because school was cancelled in the center of the country (they commute from targeted areas).

Rockets were shot at Israeli citizens and the Israel Defense Forces were hitting Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. Even without a finalized government, Israel knows what to do and we know the army and Iron Dome will protect us.

A colleague had to go to to Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon and found the city shut down. The six-lane highway was nearly empty. The stores were all closed in Azrieli Mall. Clearly this was pretty serious.

My Jerusalem neighborhood on Tuesday night was silent. Usually I hear children playing in the park behind my building. But on Tuesday night I heard absolutely nothing – no voices, no cars, no cats, no neighbors. I heard fighter jets once or twice.

On Wednesday morning, a few parents were late because schools were delayed. But the kids went to school. Traffic was pretty light in Jerusalem. Wednesday night was quiet – a few voices, a few cars, a few cats, a few neighbors. Again, I heard fighter jets.

rockets

This image is from the IDF Facebook page of November 13. Source.

On Thursday, I did my weekly grocery shopping. No shortages, no panicky stock-ups. That evening the neighborhood had a huge, noisy gathering for kids. Lots of cheering. Lots of music. An MC getting the crowd all excited. Business as usual.

On Friday, there was a big birthday party in the park. It was like a mini-rave for 5-year-olds. Actors in a live show, games, music, shouts and laughter of little kids. Then it suddenly stopped. It had started to rain – regular, ordinary wet droplets.

And tonight the park was the noisiest it’s been for a while. Probably 50-75 kids were out there singing at the top of their lungs, call and response. They were playing, shouting, laughing. I shut my windows, but it was no use. Their enthusiasm was too much for my double-paned windows.

Children and their parents near the Gaza Strip don’t have the luxury of going to parks and enjoying the freedom to laugh and sing right now. But they will. Twenty-one babies were born in Ashkelon during the barrages. Babies being born is ultimately hopeful; the fact that there were so many had to do with the stress of sirens and rockets inducing labor.

But that’s Israel. We trust our army to protect us. Our incredibly flawed government will not let us down when we are under attack. And we will not be afraid.

We choose life and we celebrate it. Always.

*This post was updated to reflect the correct days of the week.

Nevertheless …

Objectively speaking, the world has had a pretty sh*tty week.

  • Massacre in two New Zealand mosques by a right wing extremist who proudly posted it live on social media
  • Rockets in Tel Aviv
  • Response in Gaza
  • Terror cell found in Syrian Golan Heights
  • Boeing 737 Max 8 making air travel scarier than ever
  • Scandal in the US of parents cheating the system to get their over-privileged children into higher-tier universities
  • Scandal in Korea of a Korean pop star who offered sex services for business investment that snowballed into a bigger scandal involving hidden-camera sex videos shared in chatrooms
  • Spa sex scandal in the US, which shines a light on human trafficking all over the US while delegitimizing the massage therapist profession
  • Learning about the despicable crimes of R. Kelly and Jussie Smollett, and wondering why Paul Manafort got off so lightly
  • Anti-Semitism showing itself on the Left and the Right (around the world)
  • Ugly election campaigns
  • Preventable diseases making a comeback because of misinformation and ungrounded fear

It’s weeks like this that make me think it might be a good idea to get off social media and stop reading the news.

Nevertheless …

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

I actually had a pretty good week.

  • Finished a big project on gender equality in the workplace
  • Saw a matinee of Captain Marvel and walked home in my blue suede shoes

Short review: So. Much. Fun!
Best feminist line: “I don’t have to prove anything to you!”
Best multi-level joke: Cat named Goose

  • Cheered for the runners in the Jerusalem Marathon – it rained the day before and the day after, but the on the day of the race, the weather was perfect
  • Took time for self-care, cooking (mushroom barley soup and quinoa fennel cranberry salad), and baking (molasses cookies)

This is not an ode to being selfish. Rather it’s a reminder to be grateful for the blessings in your own life and trying to make your corner of the world a little bit brighter. Human beings always have a choice. We can choose to have good people in our lives and do good things. We’ll slip from time to time and hopefully learn to do better.

But if we start to believe that the world is dark, horrible, filled with evil, and nothing we do even matters in the great scheme of things, well, then we will have a lot more weeks like this one.

So instead of looking at the world and saying “whatever,” let’s look at the world and say “nevertheless!”

 

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

“Mom, can I go visit with Mr. Rogers?”

Taking her 5-year-old’s request very seriously, she asked, “Well, how long will you be gone?”

“Oh, about a half an hour.”

“Ok. Have a good time.”

And I plunked myself down in front of the television and had an undisturbed visit with Mr. Rogers.

***

This Google Doodle is only in the United States and I know Mister Rogers is more or less an American phenomenon. I wish it was global.

There is only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you just because you’re you.”

A great message to give to children.

You are special and so is everyone else in this world.”

A reminder that we should not only value ourselves, but that each person has value.

“Childhood lies at the very heart of who we are and who we become.”

Our childhoods don’t have to be perfect, but if we are allowed to use the tools to learn and grow from our experiences, then we can make ourselves and the world around us better.

***

All of Mr. Rogers’ messages fit in with the Jewish value of choosing life.

And where there is life, there is hope.

Perhaps this Google Doodle will remind people, especially people in power, of a few simple truths:

“I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!”

“I’d like to be remembered for being a compassionate human being who happened to be fortunate enough to be born at a time when there was a fabulous thing called television that could allow me to use all the talents that I had been given.”

So now, in the New Year, and a day before my birthday (my own new year), I wish you all a life of purpose and meaning, doing the things that you love that make you, your families, and the world around you better.

And if you need a little inspiration, go have a visit with Mr. Rogers. It is surely time well spent.

“It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness”

JD east of edenMy favorite James Dean movie is East of Eden.  The story moved me so much that I decided to read the book by John Steinbeck.  I had the pleasure of visiting the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA, where I learned that Steinbeck considered East of Eden the culmination of his life’s work.  He struggled with it all his life because he wanted to truly understand the fundamental ability to choose light or darkness.

 

God said to Cain, “If you do well, shall you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)  Steinbeck’s East of Eden tells us that no matter what happens, you always have a choice.

The power to choose

There’s so much awful news: Tel Aviv, Orlando, the Stanford rape case, a British MP gunned down, and plenty more that I don’t know about.  In each case someone made a choice to do evil; they chose darkness.

Debates are raging right now about why these tragedies happened. I’m not qualified to give an opinion about changes that need to be made in society and I’m not going to try.  This post is about the power to choose.

Choosing compassion

The family of a police officer saw someone running from the scene of the Tel Aviv terror attack.  He was badly shaken and could hardly speak.  They brought him in and gave him water.  The officer ran to the scene and when he saw that the detained shooter was dressed exactly like the man in his house, he rushed back, fearing the worst.  Indeed, the family had sheltered the second shooter.  The officer arrested him in the living room.

This family chose to help someone who looked to be in shock.  Without a doubt, the situation could have ended tragically, but instead we have an example of what compassion to one’s neighbors looks like.

Unsung heroes

At Stanford, two Swedish graduate students pulled the rapist off of his victim and held him down until police arrived.  The victim was completely unconscious, could not defend herself, and likely would not have been able to remember the events of what happened in order to bring her attacker to justice.

It was late at night.  The two students could have passed by and done nothing.  Instead, they chose to protect a young woman in a horrible situation.

Choosing to stand together

Sometimes you can’t save the person in danger, but you can stand beside the mourners.  Two stories I came across – and surely there are many more – remind us that it’s fine to “Je suis …” and change your profile pictures, but actions are so much more powerful.

A rabbi brought members of his congregation to grieve with mourners of the Orlando terror attack.  Just showing up was enough.

A flight crew found out that a passenger was on her way to her grandson’s funeral.  He was one of the victims in Orlando.  All the passengers wrote notes and when they deplaned, every person stopped to personally give their condolences.

Shavuot in Israel – Standing together

This week also marked Shavuot in Israel.  Shavuot is the fiftieth day after Passover and marks the date that the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Sinai.  It’s a pilgrimage holiday meaning that when the Temple stood, people came to offer sacrifices.  Today, we aren’t offering sacrifices, but we still stand together, raise our voices in song, and choose life.

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Here’s a video I took while watching the sunrise on Shavuot at the Western Wall

From a single candle, thousands can be lit

When I watch the sun rise over the people and hear them singing, I know that the world is going to be okay.  Some people choose to do evil.  This is a fact and we see plenty of evidence of it.  But more people choose to do good.  More people choose light.  Sure, there may be moments .of regret, but every day we have a choice.  We can choose light and keep choosing it until we break down the power of darkness.

Wishing all the fathers a Happy Father’s Day!

And remembering my Dad z’’l

Soldiers Remembrance Day (Yom HaZikaron)—Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut)

After Passover, Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, remembering and honoring victims of the Holocaust.  The following week, the nation remembers fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks.  Immediately afterwards, the streets are filled with joy for Independence Day.

It took a while for me to connect to this rhythm of honoring the memory of the dead and celebrating the birth of a country.  But I think the bottom line is that Israel loves life while not rejecting or denying the sacrifices made by others.

Maagan Michael 2001

The first time I experienced the 5-minute limbo between Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut, I was emotionally confused.  At Maagan Michael, these days are taken very seriously.  The kibbutz was around in some form or another since before the birth of the state, so their cemetery held soldiers from every war.  There were ceremonies.  The cemetery was cleaned and decorated.  People told stories, they honored the fallen, and they remembered.

Maagan Michael’s cemetery

And then as we gathered together to solemnly close the day together, we said a few final words, and then we stopped.  Five quiet minutes passed.  And then fireworks.  Now it was time to be happy.  Hoorah!  Independence Day!  Time to party!  BBQ tomorrow!

Honestly, it felt a little manic-depressive, but the other way around—solemn sadness and then within 5 minutes, joy and elation.  But I get it now.  Life is short and you cannot linger in the sadness forever.  Similarly, people continue to live their lives even in the shadow of terrorist violence, even when we were in the dark days of suicide bombings.

And now, it even makes sense to me:  it is important to remember and honor the soldiers who sacrificed their lives defending the state, and also to remember and honor the innocent civilians who were victims of terror; and the best way to do that is to live, to be joyful, to be courageous, and to celebrate.  But it’s also important to keep those days separate so that the commemoration and memory don’t turn into a celebration.  I think often of Memorial Day in the US.  If you don’t know any soldiers, it’s just a 3-day weekend to kick off summer with a BBQ or buy a mattress because there’s a big sale on.  Not here.

Tradition!

This is a little clip (19 seconds) from The West Wing describing how Israel remembers their soldiers.  I have one tiny little issue with it, though I understand why it was phrased that way.  Leo McGarry says that it happens on May 13, the day before Israeli Independence Day.  Well, in 19 seconds, it’s a little hard to explain that the date changes because Independence Day is celebrated according to the Jewish calendar, so Remembrance Day on the 4th of Iyar, whenever that happens to be on the Gregorian calendar.

And he’s right.  Here are a few snapshots of my television screen this year.  There was soft Israeli music playing in the background, not sad music exactly, but definitely mellow and understated.  As I watched the names change, I realized that every single name represented a family that lost someone.  This year, the number of fallen stands at 23,447.

Major Levy Feigenbaum z”l 1 July 1974

Staff Sargent Avraham “Bomi” Schwartz z”l 23 September 1974

On Yom HaZikaron, there are two national sirens, one at 8:00pm to signify the start of Remembrance Day for one minute, and one at 11:00am the next morning for two minutes.  The same behaviors apply as they do for Yom HaShoah:  everyone stops, people stand, and we do it all together.

For Independence Day, Jerusalem allows parties all night.  I didn’t go – I’ve been there and done that, and it’s usually a wild, drunken scene.  Still, I could hear the partying in the street from home and I had a perfect view of the fireworks.  On offer was a city-sanctioned “rave” downtown, folk dancing at the square by city hall, and many of the bars had some kind of Independence Day party theme.

Seriously, I didn’t even go outside for these.

The next day, the park was filled with youth groups, buses dropped off thousands of tourists in the area, and I happened to see a March of the Living group from Argentina.  (March of the Living groups usually visit concentration camps in Europe and commemorate Yom HaShoah there and then come to Israel for Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.)

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The spring holiday cycle

So now this year’s journey is complete:  we began as slaves in Egypt and took 40 years of wandering to become a nation; we faced near-annihilation in the Holocaust; we built a state and to protect it and its citizens, soldiers sacrificed their lives and civilians lost their lives in terror attacks; and now we have arrived at Independence Day, when we celebrate the last line in the national anthem, “to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”