2020: The Ugly and the Beautiful

Flower on Ben Gurion (photo by Marc Kornblatt)

Good riddance to 2020.  Around the world it has been an ugly year.

Early mornings, walking the pandemic-haunted streets of Tel Aviv, I search for beauty as a distraction. The sidewalks blessedly provide. 

See that broken baguette atop a bed of bricks? Was it dropped accidentally? Or did someone set the bread there for the hungry?

Bread on Dizengoff (photo by Marc Kornblatt)

Charity existed well before Covid-19’s invasion. Still, knowing that many shops lately have closed in the wake of repeated lockdowns, and people are worried about paying their bills, the loaf strikes me as a thing of beauty.

With more than 1,770,000 deaths world-wide attributed to Covid-19, as of this writing, and the number still rising, it is unusual when the pandemic does not appear as one of the day’s top news stories.

Face masks litter my path as I wander along the deserted streets. I find an eerie beauty in one such discovery.

Mask on Yafo (photo by Marc Kornblatt)

Israel (3,200+ Covid-19 deaths) has just embarked on its third national lockdown. People across the land have protested the government’s handling of the pandemic. Yet, as of today, the country is now leading the world in its vaccination rate (nearly 500,000 immunized).

“Hakol y’hiyeh b’seder,” is a popular Israeli saying. “Everything will be okay.”  Well worn as it may be, the phrase remains potent here.

On one of my morning routes, I find humor and beauty in a clothing store window.

Mannequin Suitably Outfitted (photo by Marc Kornblatt)

In a park near my apartment building, a man shows up every morning to feed the dozen, or more, stray cats who frequent it. The pandemic has not interrupted his diurnal act of kindness. (Unassuming as he may be, perhaps one day the cat man will allow me to photograph him with his friends.)

People in other neighborhoods I pass through have not forgotten the cats, either. I find their simple gestures beautiful.

Chernokovsky Street Creature Comforts (photo by Marc Kornblatt)

To be sure, 2020 has been an ugly year, epitomized in the United States by Donald Trump, whose bogus tweets claiming voter fraud in the year’s presidential election have stoked rage across the US (335,000+ Covid-19 deaths).  This is on top of his shout-outs to white supremacists and slanderous attacks on immigrants.

As a New Jersey-born American and a recently recognized citizen of Israel, I find beautiful relief in never passing a “Make America Great Again” sign or baseball cap as I crisscross my new city. Signs condemning Benjamin Netanyahu, however, often catch my eye, many of them artfully rendered.

Bibi on King George (photo by Marc Kornblatt)

Granted, as miserable as 2020 has been, I doubt that the people of Yemen or Somalia would deem its ugliness out of the ordinary. The same goes for those living in Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and South Sudan. 

Devastated for years by civil war, those countries, along with the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, and Venezuela, all made the International Rescue Committee’s top 10 list of the world’s worst crises before the current pandemic struck. The Democratic Republic of Congo, number 2 on the list, was suffering the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history before coronavirus became a household word. 

2020 might not even make it onto those nations’ Top 10 list of most ugly years of the 21st century.  Considering the relentless destruction wrought by climate change, the year might not even crack any country’s Top 20 Most Ugly by the time 2100 dawns.

Meanwhile, as we part company with a wretched year, I offer this video essay along with my hope that beauty will reign in 2021.

About the Author
Filmmaker and children's book author Marc Kornblatt is the producer/director of the award-winning documentaries DOSTOEVSKY BEHIND BARS, STILL 60, WHAT I DID IN FIFTH GRADE, and LIFE ON THE LEDGE, and the web series MINUTE MAN and ROCK REGGA. He and his wife made Aliyah in 2019 and now live in Tel Aviv where he has produced OLEH HADASH, a web series about his experience as a new citizen of Israel, a pandemic-inspired series, THE NARROW BRIDGE PROJECT, and, most recently, BLUE & RED, Respectful Encounters of the Political King, a web series celebrating civil discourse across the liberal-conservative divide.
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