David Newman
Views on the Borderline

Corona Lock Down (Seger) Diary – Day 1

The community of Metar in the Northern Negev and three generations of the Newman family. Copyright: David Newman personal photos.

Starting tomorrow afternoon, the national Seger – enforced lock down – will set in throughout Israel. Excepting people who must go to work, the entire country is expected to remain within, or very close, by their homes, or in the house they are staying over the Rosh Hashana festival.

Here in Metar in the south of the country, we have an ideal situation for lock down and social distancing. One of Israel’s best kept secrets it is a community of large detached houses, numbering some 10,000 people, surrounded by hills and large vacant spaces. When we first came here over thirty years ago, the community was only three years old and contained less than 1,000 people. Bordering the desert, our nearest neighbours are the two large Bedouin towns of Hora (who I see from the window of my house) and Laqiya to the east and west, and the Green Line, the southern border of the West Bank, to the north. A more recent community, Carmit, has been established in recent years and is attracting a new generation of young people to this area, seeking larger expanses and living spaces than that  available in the centre of the country – while the  extension of both the rail network and the  Cross-Israel  highway (Kvish 6) in recent years has made the area far more accessible than  ever before – allowing for travel holdups you can easily be here in less than ninety minutes from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem  or Ben-Gurion airport.

Metar is a mixed community in Israeli terms, meaning that religious and secular populations live side by side with few, if any, problems. A rough estimate would put about fifteen percent of the population as religious and we have some ten synagogues spread throughout the community – Ashkenaz and Sepharad, Chabad and Yemeni, so that everyone has somewhere to go, whether they seek it on a  daily basis or just for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. On the whole, we do what much of Israel (certainly our politicians) are not very good at – we live and let live, side by side, with few frictions or arguments.

The population is also diverse politically and a survey of Metar prior to the elections gives a pretty good indication of how the country will vote, with some exceptions – there are almost no Palestinian or Haredi residents. Perhaps it is a bit more centrist than the overall right wing leaning population, but it has all types from doctors at the Soroka hospital to market stall owners in beer Sheva, and from university professors to teachers, government officials and employees at the Dead Sea Works, who leave every morning at 5.30 am to drive through Arad and down to Sodom. It has a healthy age structure with many new young couples coming to live here and with three elementary (one of them religious) and one high, school, bursting at the seams, alongside the “veterans” who established the community and built their houses some 35 years ago, most of whom have now reached retirement age.

It is no wonder that this is a place where our young adult children who have grown up here, but have now moved away from the Negev, many of them married with young children, come to spend weekends and the festivals here. It is an escape from the pressure of small apartments in the towns and it gives the younger children, the grandchildren, space to move around and enjoy themselves. Oh, and of course, it allows them to rely on their grandparents (young grandparents in spirit and action ) to do much of  the cooking and the cleaning, and give them a break from their pressured work schedules. And let’s be honest, despite the hard work involved, we love it when they are here.

A few days, a weekend is great. But this time it will be different. Those children who opt to come for Rosh Hashana will be staying for up to two, three and perhaps even more, weeks until the government allows them to go home again. In our case, two of our four children with their spouses and, altogether, four young grandchildren, will be arriving tomorrow. We would have liked all four families to come for Rosh Hashana but the others need to be back home next week, one of them is in bidud right now, and are therefore unable to come.

Of the four adults arriving, three work within the education sector which will be closed down, while one may have to occasionally represent clients in court (he is a defence lawyer) in which case he will be allowed to travel back and forth.

They will be with us through the entire festival period until the end of Succot – or for as long as the lock down continues. It will no doubt get intensive, perhaps more than usual.    How will we, and they, cope with the daily situation?  Will they get bored of being away from  their own homes? Will they allow me enough time to work up in my office / study? And who will do the daily cooking and cleaning for a minimum of ten people? How will we celebrate the festivals together? And will we all watch together my beloved Tottenham football (soccer) team on the live streams from the UK as they take on no less than nine matches during the coming three weeks?  What unexpected situations will emerge and how will we cope with them against the backdrop of  the daily news and new rules and regulations issued by the government based on the changing COVID figures.

Over the next three weeks, I will be posting a daily Lock Down diary (excepting on the festival days themselves) to record the trials and tribulations, the high and the low points, of this period. We are used to, and enjoy immensely, hosting family and friends here in Metar, but this intensive three week period may be more than we bargained for – and then again it may be a great success Indeed, why shouldn’t it be, we ask ourselves, as quiet still reigns supreme throughout the house?.

But before they arrive tomorrow morning, there is much to do. Right now, it is time to peel two large bags of potatoes (great therapy), to cover all the festival meals through until Sunday evening. As an ex British family, it is unheard of to have a meal without that staple diet of potatoes, although our Israeli born and grown up Israeli children, are happy with rice – something their father fails to comprehend, and wonders sometimes about their genes. The two families who will be here are both British -Yemeni combinations, allowing for diverse eating styles and menus.

So, Lock Down  is already kicking in a day in advance as we go ahead with the festival preparations.  At least Lock Down starting at 2.00 pm means that they will arrive a good few hours before Rosh Hashana starts, instead of the usual five minutes before (or two minutes afterwards). That, in itself, is a good start. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Lock Down diary installment.

About the Author
David Newman is professor of Geopolitics in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Originally from the UK, he was awarded the OBE in 2013 for promoting scientific links between the UK and Israel. From 2010-2016, Newman was Dean of the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at BGU. His three distinct, and vastly different, areas of expertise cover Border Studies, Israeli Politics and Society, and Anglo Jewish history of the 19th and 20th centuries.
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