It is just past 14.00 and the Lock Down has officially started. The kids and the grandchildren arrived on time by Israeli standards, if arriving half an hour late is considered on time. They were greeted with the surprise that we had prepared for them over the past few weeks in lieu of Rosh Hashana before we been knew there would be another lock down – a set of swings and slides in the garden. It was ordered online but then required a professional carpenter to come and put it together, with his own improvisations and additions. It’s as good as they will find in any local, overcrowded park, and heat allowing, will help to occupy them, and get them out of the house, during the long days – perhaps weeks – ahead.
No sitting in front of the TV. We have two large TV screens but no Cables or Satellites – something we got rid of quite a few years ago. We occasionally check in with the news on the radio or internet, from where we can pick up almost everything we want, and the computers (note the plural) are easily attached by HDMI to the TV screens when necessary – Netflix, TVMucho provides sufficient entertainment, too much even. .
It may seem strange for a professor of geopolitics to hardly listen to the news any more, but it doesn’t change much over time – just with different names and protagonists. And yes, the politicians, the analysts and the newscasters have all become that much younger and are exeriencing these events for the first time in their life. We stopped taking a daily newspaper many years ago – the weekend version is sufficient for the occasional interesting article – Hebrew and English – and for the weekly twenty questions which we rarely get more than five right. If they deal with history or politics, we are okay. But when they deal with film, celebs or music stars – be they Israeli or global – our ignorance is plain for all to see. Depending on how many of the kids are here for any weekend, we get a few more questions right, but even they seem to have other interests in life.
Having feet in very different worlds, it is always interesting to compare weekend takes from Haaretz and Mekor Rishon – the two ideological newspapers, with the occasional Hamodia thrown in. I don’t remember the last time we ever read a copy of Yediot or Maariv, or tuned in to an Israeli TV news broadcast. Radio headlines at 7.00 am and 20.00, along with the occasional look at Ynet (the Israeli tabloid version of SKY) is enough to get a good idea of what is happening – and we certainly have no time for those boring and repetitive discussions (arguments and shouting matches) which seem to constitute the hard core of Israeli TV. As for foreign news, I remain a BBC afficianado, and SKY is always there to supply the broadcast version of the tabloids, especially – and most particularly – the sports (which means Premier League football) news at twenty past the hour.
The library in this house is large and eclectic, ranging from Borders and Geopolitics, Israeli politics and history, Israeli geography, European politics and history, English literature, Jewish history, especially Anglo-Jewish, Judaica, Talmud, far too many novels to be counted, and, yes you’ve guessed it, probably the largest Tottenham library anywhere in the Middle East (a programme collection going back uninterrupted to 1950 and brought out from the UK every few months). I keep promising to reduce the number of books but always seem to be coming home with more. Plenty of kids books for all ages, and this is the place they come to learn to read in English – we are a totally bilingual family, fluent in both languages, but the grandchildren have Israeli parents, so this is the place they come to improve their English language skills. Plenty of opportunity for this during the lockdown period.
Its been a busy day not only preparing for the lock down at home but also helping our neighbours set up their garden synagogue for the forthcoming Rosh Hashana services. Like many houses in Metar over the past six months, the garden has been used as an alternative place of prayer on a daily basis, but the temporary nature of the place has taken on a more permanent setting for the coming festivals. Gazebos have been purchased to provide shade, neighbours have brought along their folding garden tables so we have a proper place to sit and rest our books during the long services – even if they will be considerably shorter than a normal year due to the impending heat. Family groups will be allowed to sit up to three at a table, while all other tables will have no more than two people, up to a maximum of 20 men, and a similar number of women in the neighboring garden – we are a community which observe the social distancing and mask rules, regardless of what each of us may thing personally about the government rules and regulations. The local Rabbi has sent out instructions as to how we ca make the prayer services shorter than usual – both because of the heat and because of the need for social distancing.
There is the classic joke about the man marooned on a desert island, that when he was rescued, there were two buildings, both of them synagogues. When asked why he needed two, he answered that he went to one, while the other one was the one he would never set foot in in his life. Well, today in Metar, we have sufficient garden synagogues to go to a different one each day (although we tend to stick with one small group of 15-18 people) and plenty mroe which we never have to set foot in. Metar is not a religious community per se, the majority of Metar’s population are not religious, but we expect to see some of them coming by or even listening to the Shofar from the streets.
Because of lockdown, many people who bring their children to hear the Shofar will not be at services. So it has been announced that at fifteen different crossroads throughout the community, people will blow the Shofar at 5.30 in the afternoon on Sunday (this year the shofar will not be blown on the first day because it is Shabat) and that should make for an interesting cacophony of noise.
For those of us for whom the religious aspect of Rosh Hashana is important, the first days of lockdown will not be very different from other years. The main difference will be that when the festival ends, there will be no mad rush to pack bags and drive home. It will be forbidden due to the government lockdown regulations. There will be no point in trying to clear up the kids balagan in the house,
But for those for whom the festival is an opportunity to go on a tiyul or hike or spend it at a hotel, they will find it difficult to cope, being closed in and not allowed to travel further than one kilometre from their house. The hills behind Metar, indeed behind our house at the very edge of the community, are a great place for localised walking and, as in the previous period of lockdown some months ago, we expect to see more people there. It is strange but since our house is at the end of a road at the very edge of the community, it is rare to see people go by even during a regular weekday – so in some senses lockdown is no different from any regular day. On the contrary, the fact that people may find the surrounding hills as an opportunity to get out of the houses for a breather means we may see more, rather than less, people – but we are talking about limited numbers so it won’t make a great difference.
The most common visitors are the jackals which roam the neighbouring hills and which, in increasing numbers, stroll through the streets and gardens of Metar as though they own the place. The quieter it is, the more they come, so we can expect to see plenty of them in the coming weeks.
So there we are, the New Year festival is about to begin. We wish and bless our friends and relatives with a healthy, plague free, New Year. A year of gezunt as our parents would say. Time for some serious introspection about our lives and a time to remember, despite the virus and despite the various other problems facing the country, that the cup is ninety percent full and that we are so fortunate to celebrate the New Year here in Israel, something of which our ancestors could only dream about. We are indeed a blessed generation.
Shana Tova and adieu until after the festival.