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An adversary, symbol, or gesture of goodwill? Detestations of a Face Mask

I’m not asking you to agree. I’m not asking you to disagree. This is an opinion piece, and my opinion is this: if this mask situation goes on much longer, I think I may scream.

It makes me feel like I can’t breathe.

It makes me feel sick.

It makes me feel like I’m suffocating.

It makes me feel imprisoned.

I stand on the platform at Tel Aviv Hashalom station and am surrounded by half-faces – I can only see eyes, no expressions. There’s something inordinately creepy about that. I smile at my friends’ babies, but they don’t smile back, because they can’t see the smile. My four-year-old puts his mask on indoors and I just want to weep when I look at his dear little chubby cheeks all covered up.

I am triple-vaccinated. I care deeply about the well-being of others. I have adhered to all the ever-changing corona rules. I understand that the masks were designed not only to protect myself from others, but to protect others from me. 

During the height of the corona danger period, I was so proud of Israel when they never once floated the idea of herd immunity – unlike many other nations, Israel was never willing to sacrifice anyone for the greater good. Israel cares about every single life – and Israel was going to do everything it could to protect its citizens from this frightening, deadly virus.

Putting aside the fact that I missed my family in London terribly, I handled the lockdowns pretty well. Other parents may kill me for saying this, and I avoided posting on social media because I didn’t want to get lynched – but the lockdown was ok. I was protecting my family, and I made the most of it – I was that mum who made loads of arts and crafts, watched movies with my kids, did exercise videos every day together; I maximized the family time and tried to stay positive.

But it’s not March 2020 anymore. It’s January 2022. And I feel like I can’t breathe.

Everywhere I look, there are masks – littering the streets and parks, waiting for me at the entrance to my office, on signs next to shops. Every pocket I put my hand into, even if it belongs to a coat I haven’t worn since last winter, I find a crumpled mask. I feel like they’re a symbol of this pandemic – and when it’s all over and this dystopian nightmare comes to an end, it will be the masks that are still here to remind us of what happened.

One afternoon a few days ago, I gave my kids royal icing to decorate cupcakes – and they used it to fashion facemasks to put on their cakes. (One kid also made the YouTube and Netflix symbols – which pretty much sums up the last twenty-two months). This is what’s dominating my kids lives – this is the everyday image implanted in their subconscious.

Recently, before an exercise class began, one member of the class asked everybody to please wear a mask. She asked very sweetly and politely – there was really no reason to say no. And because it was a class full of sweet, polite, socially-conscious people, everybody nodded in agreement. 

My skin started to crawl. I felt panicky. The thought of exercising in a mask now – I couldn’t, I just couldn’t do it, get me out of here!

I wore the mask for about thirty seconds before throwing it on the floor. I thought I was going to be judged – but by the end of the class, out of sixteen people, all but three had also taken off their masks.

I should add that having been patient number 16 in Israel with Omicron three weeks previously, I also knew that at this point I was no danger to my classmates. 

And that was also what frustrated me: Of course it may be nigh on impossible to apply the rules on a needs basis – it’s far easier to make a blanket rule concerning masks, bidud, antigen tests etc., and I doubt an honour system would work these days as people are far too jaded – but there was a burning desire inside me to scream: Why am I wearing a mask? I could breathe on your toothbrush right now and you won’t catch corona from me! 

Furthermore, the feelings of suffocation and ‘Why on Earth are we still doing this?’ only intensified when, having not stepped one toe out of my door for fourteen days, I saw Naftali Bennett enter the Knesset when he was supposed to be in bidud. It was at this point that I lost my entire faith in the system. My niece and nephews can’t enter Israel but your wife and kids can travel abroad? This microscopic, nano-sized virus doesn’t care whether you have an Israeli passport or not! Either it’s safe to travel, or it isn’t.

And it’s not just Bennett – it’s world leaders all over the globe who are operating on a double standard. Boris Johnson and his party while the Queen mourns Prince Philip in solitude? An utter disgrace. One rule for them, another for us. A complete lack of dugma ishit (role model behaviour).

And don’t tell me that Bennett had to go to the Knesset. No, he did not – we would have had far more respect for him if he had said: The opposition is trying to ambush me, but I am keeping the quarantine rules that I have told my population to keep. 

Otherwise, why couldn’t I have walked out of my house and kept my distance from others? Why couldn’t I have taken my asymptomatic children, who were climbing the walls, for a run on the beach and just kept them at a distance from others?

I’ll tell you why: Because I had the police at my door and 71 phone calls from the Ministry of Health. My husband was also stopped at the airport a month later because the Ministry of Health had mixed-up the dates on his passport and they thought he ought to be in bidud. I live in a democratic, first-world (for the most part) country – and this is what it’s come to?

But I’m not here to start ranting about how I think the mask is a sign of oppression by governments, or to spout conspiracy theories about how the virus started in China and yet here we are paying the Chinese billions for manufacturing these blinking masks, or to start an anti-mask-wearing revolution …  I’m just here to tell you about how I. Can’t. Wear it. Anymore. 

I just can’t.

In years to come, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, doctors, teachers, wellness experts et al will all analyse how this pandemic affected mental health. I know people who have lost loved ones, been kept apart from loved ones for months on end, who have become depressed, lost jobs – barely anyone hasn’t been affected. And I’m sure all those people will say there are worse things than wearing a mask. And of course that’s true. But this mask, which is either on my face, slipping off my nose, tucked under my chin or hanging off my wrist every day has come to represent all of those terrible things. I just want it to go away.

P.S. As I was writing this on the train, someone came round and started shouting at everyone to put on their masks. Cue: silent screaming,

About the Author
Despite having made Aliyah nearly seven and a half years ago, Abi still feels at times like a 'fresh-off-the-boat' Olah Chadashah. She has an MA in Dance and Movement Psychotherapy, having also received a BA in English Literature and Language - and is now working as a content writer in Tel Aviv's hi-tech hub.
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