Coronavirus has much of the world on lockdown. But that should not stop the Jews from being “a light unto the nations.” A beautiful example, in this regard, found expression in a Bild interview with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Kurz publicly credited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with spurring him on to take measures to counter the effects of the virus in Austria.
Another example of being a light for the nations is former refusenik Natan Sharansky, who shared tips with the world on coping with isolation. Sharansky spent nine years in a Soviet prison, much of the time in solitary confinement, for the crime of wanting to make Aliyah to Israel. Who better to speak on the subject of how to manage confinement than a prisoner of conscience?
While we are not Netanyahu or Sharansky, each of us, in our own way, has something to contribute to this effort of living under lockdown, to being a light unto the nations. I don’t like to talk about it, but I have had some experience with hardship. I once lived on a small settlement I don’t like to remember, called Metzad, where we had no shops or sidewalks, water was delivered daily (except when it wasn’t and the water ran out), and electricity was spotty at best.
For electrical power, the community depended on a generator designed for a much smaller load. My husband Dov had charge of the generator, and this was a losing proposition from the beginning. The generator couldn’t handle our needs, and the power was always cutting out, plunging us into darkness, and depending on the weather, into extremes of heat and cold . I was always trying to decide whether or not the food in my fridge was still safe, after another hours’ long power-out.
As the community grew, the generator failed more often and the power-outs were a constant. This meant that Dov had to run out, sometimes several times a night, in all kinds of weather, knocking on doors to get people to turn off their heaters, and directing them to go to lights and refrigerators only.
Some people invariably cheated, and this meant that Dov couldn’t get the generator back up. Dov knew exactly how many heaters it would take to put us over the top and overwhelm the system. The cheaters meant that everyone suffered, most of all Dov, who would have to get out of bed, get dressed, go down to the generator, try to coax it into coming back on, and if that failed, he’d have to run from house to house, and beg people to obey his directive to go to lights and fridge only.
Now my husband is not a patient man, God bless him, and he would sometimes get quite angry and even yell at people. He was wildly underappreciated, and did not even receive a salary for his service to the community.
Dov begged the local council to provide us with a generator able to handle a larger number of people, and they’d give him one, but the gears ground too slowly, so that by the time we’d get the new generator, our community would have already grown beyond its capacity, too. We were started off with a 44 KW generator for 18 families, then upgraded to 120 KW for 28 families with 70 kids, then once again to 230 KW for 35 families with 220 kids. As a result, we residents were often restricted to lights and a fridge, only, as we shivered and sweated in our asbestos/concrete/cum cardboard caravans.
In front of our caravan on Metzad.
Losing power, meantime, was not just about being hot and cold in the dark eating spoiled food. It meant also that we were unsafe. Metzad was surrounded by hostile Arab villages, one in particular known for the extreme cruelty and violence of the residents. We had to keep the lights on to keep us safe, to prevent those who might sneak in from murdering us in our beds.
Basic needs and safety aside, Dov and I had other challenges. We had a lot of babies during this time period. So neither of us ever slept. It was either the generator, a crying infant or toddler, or a sick elementary school child (sometimes all of these at once) interrupting our sleep. Add in two intifadas and the Gulf War, assorted terror attacks, and many difficult pregnancies, and you can see it’s a lot.
It was, however, a difficult time for me for personal and emotional reasons, as well. I didn’t fit in with the community, which left me feeling very isolated. I couldn’t just take a day to run into town to get away from it all, because we had no public or private means of transportation for much of the time we lived on that mountaintop. As for moving away, well, we had no money to leave and anyway, somehow, my husband didn’t want to. So there was that disagreement about where we should be. It was all very stressful.
The Susita was the only blue and white car ever made. The parts were Ford Anglia, but the body was Israeli fiberglass construction. The car was more a curiosity than an efficient conveyance. Israelis would constantly pull alongside us, motion us to roll down the windows and offer to buy it off of us (when it worked).
There were always terrible gas fumes wafting about us as we drove, and the ride was NOISY and ROCKY. I went into labor every time Dov started the motor and the contractions never stopped until he parked. I was always afraid I’d give birth in that crazy car.
But I learned things up there on that mountain. I learned to make do with very little, in a time and place where even water and electricity were undependable and sporadic. I learned that when people suck, like whether it’s hogging electricity or hoarding toilet paper, refuge can still be found in books and food.
I survived. You will, too. You hang on when things are tough, because something in you loves life, craves life, in spite of everything. So you persist.
A lot of this is coming back to me now, the feeling of that time, in our current situation of being in the midst of a global pandemic, this coronavirus COVID-19. This struggle is the same as that, where basic resources are undependable, the work, both physical and mental, is as hard as can be, the isolation almost total, the fear hanging over our heads.
But my old and ugly history is the reason I feel well-equipped to handle the coronavirus lockdown. I feel completely equal to the task of living through this crazy plague. It’s like I had a trial by fire, and I already know how to do this.
That doesn’t mean I like it, but I can totally cope. We can do this. Even if it gets very hard.
None of us like it. Who wants to be tried by fire? But all of us know the truism: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That has to be the aim right now, not to be killed, so we can all come out stronger, even better for our travail.
And while we feel incredibly isolated, we are doing this all together, almost the whole world, at one and the same time. For me, at least, it’s hard not to contemplate that the messianic era may be coming quite soon. After all, we’re in the home stretch: the final 300 years of the world’s existence.
Things could get bad. They may get scary. But the main thing is not to let the fear become overwhelming.
Humor helps a lot. I mine the internet for funny corona memes and videos and share them with my friends.
Humor aside, it also helps to remember that young people will still be here, even if we are not, to find a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19. I try to be productive, to keep busy and so should you.
And should that involve reading trashy novels while eating potato chips and ice cream, I promise that your secret, will always be safe with me.
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