Chavi Israel
Chavi Israel

Lessons in Lockdown

Lockdowns, lockdowns, and more lockdowns.
When will this exile end? Perhaps I sound melodramatic, but this is how I feel.

Everything that life throws at us has a purpose and reason.
Nothing is by mere chance or coincidence. G-d runs the world, controlling every nuance, from a leaf falling off a tree to being stuck in traffic.
I have realised that everything in life has to have a silver lining.
So here are some of my tips and tricks on overcoming these challenging times:

1. Taking one day at a time
I know this may sound cliché, but I kid you not – it works.
When I found out that Sydney was going into a lockdown for a month, I was calm, sensing that we would be out in no time. Yet, when restrictions started to increase and were extended, I panicked. How was I going to manage? Originally from Melbourne, Sydney is not my hometown. It can feel quite isolating on a good day, but on a hard day, it’s downright awful, and missing my family really kicks in. Furthermore, as a primary school teacher, navigating online learning is hard work. Trying to engage, motivate and educate the students is highly demanding and utterly exhausting.

After some introspection, I realised that I had no choice; instead of working against my reality, I needed to face it and work with it. Every day is a struggle, but I have learnt to tackle each moment by simplifying tasks and achieving goals one at a time. For instance, every day, I prepare a rough outline of what I need to achieve. This enables me to visualise, prioritise, and accomplish tasks systematically. It leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and time for self-care.

2. Seeing the good in every situation
This is a tough one. It’s hard to see the good, especially when you’re in the thick of it. Call me crazy, but I was pondering the other day how every generation experiences its hardships. My mind immediately crossed to World War II and the Holocaust. G-d forbid am I comparing these two calamities; however, it came to mind since I was reading a book about a Polish girl who lost everything during the war and how the Nazi’s (may their name be erased) destroyed her life. She had no access to necessities and whatever was available through the black market was costly. And here I was, sulking in my current predicament of lockdown as I (ironically, I know) strolled down the sunny streets of Sydney whilst savouring the sweetness and texture of a delicious acai. I then began to imagine the life of that poor Polish girl, realising and appreciating just how fortunate I am. If this is our hell, at least we can still go to the supermarket (albeit with a mask) but to fully stocked shelves. Indeed, we are going through a pandemic; the seas are rough, but try to find the silver lining; there always is.

PS: When I read this to my friend, she made a good point: If you are feeling down in the dumps, that is okay; don’t push that feeling away. Validate yourself and reach out to those who can help.

3. Stop looking at others and start pointing inwards.
In life, we are always looking for a scapegoat. Of course, there has to be someone to blame for our hell. No one can handle Covid, and we are all drowning. This is when we need one another, and the only way to adequately achieve that is by being kind. Stop judging each other and looking if that one is keeping this rule or that rule. Look at yourself and think, “Am I keeping everything 100 per cent?” The answer – most probably not, so keep your mouth shut. The amount of double standards that have been ensuing during these arduous times is high. Just stop. Stop looking at others and start focusing within. If we want the world to be a better place, then before we start trying to change the world, let’s try and work on changing ourselves for the better. Now that is considerably tougher work than blaming others; blaming is the easy way out.

4. Believing in the Divine
In my family, we always grew up with the idea of Divine Providence, in Hebrew known as Hashgacha Pratit. Believing that in this cosmos, there is a G-d in this world, directing every detail of life. Every day when my dad would come home from work, he would say, “wow, today I have such a great Hashgacha Pratit story.” This would later on in life become one of my saving graces and ultimate comforters to overcome anything that life threw at me. In the Gemarah (Megillah 13), there is a saying, “Hashem brings the healing before the curse.” Indeed, the healing to me has always been the salvation of Divine Providence. With that healing, I have managed to overcome any curse.
My dad recently moved back to Australia from the United States and was immediately plunged into Victoria’s constant lockdowns. Evidently, he has experienced various tribulations. Despite all this, while I was chatting with him over the phone the other day and after discussing the difficulties of lockdown, he said to me, “Well, I guess Chavi, we have to remember this is all Hashgacha Pratit.” That hit me deeply. If my dad, who has it much more challenging than me, could be saying and reminding me of this, then it must be. It is so hard now to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but always remember that the one above is constantly looking out for you.

5. Ultimately, it all comes down to kindness.
The Sages in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our forefathers (Avot 1:2)) tell us that the world stands upon three things – Torah, Avoda (Divine service), and Gemillat Chassidim (Acts of kindness). Indeed, ultimately in this world, it all stems down to kindness. Since we are currently in the Hebrew month of Elul, about to enter the Jewish New year (Rosh Hashanah), I feel it is appropriate to share this Hasidic story that I recently heard.
A well-known Chassid, known as Reb Hillel Paritcher, who lived in 18th century Russia, was getting ready for the holiest day in the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur. For a Chassid, this meant a lot of preparation, such as immersing in a Mikvah (ritual bath), constantly reciting chapters of Psalms, and learning the Torah’s secrets, Chassidut. However, whilst engaged in his studies and rituals, Reb Hillel heard the terrible news. An innocent Jewish family was thrown into jail by the Poretz (the landowner) since they could not pay their rent. The total they owed was the hefty sum of 300 rubles, which was worth a lot of money in those days. The Chassid could no longer be absorbed in all his preparations, and immediately his prime focus was to get this family out of jail. As he was wandering the streets thinking of how he could obtain such a sum of money in such a short time, he happened to pass by the local tavern. In this tavern, he noticed three unassuming Jews. Ushered in, they asked Reb Hillel what he was doing out and about on the eve of Yom Kippur. Reb Hillel sorrowfully told them the news and how he needs to collect 300 rubles to save this family. The first Jew drunkenly replied, “Rabbi, if you drink this whole cup of whisky, I’ll give you 100 rubles.” Everyone cheered and encouraged Reb Hillel, who could not believe his own eyes as he gulped that cup down. Then the second Jewish man said the same thing, followed by the third man. By the time Reb Hillel had his 300 rubles in his hand, he was utterly intoxicated. Staggering down the streets, he finally got to the Poretz, who immediately released this Jewish family. Feeling happy with completing the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim (releasing a captive), despite feeling putrid and stomach grumbling, he stumbled into the Shule, making it in time for Kol Nidrei. On the holiest night of the year, when everyone is filled with trepidation, the sacred Sifrei Torah are brought out. When seeing this, Reb Hillel started to burst out into dance, singing “Ve’Semachta Ve’Chagecha…” thinking it was the holiday of Simchat Torah. Everyone was shocked and startled; what was the pious Reb Hillel doing? The Rabbi of the congregation quickly calmed everyone down and said, “The whole month of Tishrei is a journey; every holiday leads us onto the next. Reb Hillel has already surpassed this journey. He does not need Yom Kippur or Sukkot; he is already at the holiday of Simchat Torah….”
From this story, we can get a glimpse into the holiness and sacredness of Ahavat Yisrael – of loving another Jew. This is the basis of the Torah; the rest is interpretation, as the holy sage Hillel said to the convert who wanted to convert on one foot. When G-d’s creations are getting along together, that is the ultimate to Him. The Torah tells us, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), yet this is no easy feat, especially during such challenging times. But try. Try to give that person a smile who told you off about your mask not being worn properly. Try to reach out to that friend of yours who is all alone. Try to make time to relax and do something special for yourself (remember being kind, includes yourself!) Just try. As long as you are trying, you are on the right path. No longer will we feel deflated, but the antitheses. We will be bewildered that we are beaming despite these harsh circumstances, knowing that we are working on making ourselves and this world a better place.

The delicious Acai Bowl from the Fruitlogist down Bondi Road.

About the Author
Born and raised in the heart of Melbourne's Jewish Community, Chavi now resides in Sydney (Bondi) with her husband Ezry, and works as a Jewish Studies Educator at Moriah College. Currently studying a double degree, majoring in history and philosophy, Chavi is passionate about the Chassidic masters and the mystical teachings of the Torah.