Betsalel Steinhart

Making choices on Corona-Shabbat

“This is going to be the strangest Shabbat.
No shul, no Kehilla, no cars, no movement, nothing.
Just Shabbat to rest and recuperate and be with our families.
We have all undergone an upheaval, and are all dealing with the crisis in the best way possible while relying on an almost complete absence of social support.
I wish I had the magic words to say, but I don’t. We just have to breathe deeply, find the strength to weather this storm and hope that the brighter future comes soon.
I find that perspective works wonders for me – looking back over millennia of our troubled past, this is far from the worst it’s ever been, and that gives me strength.
Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom and only health…”

That was my understandably pessimistic Facebook status and WhatsApp post to various groups I have guided, minutes before Shabbat began, about 26 hours ago as I write this.  We had just found out that our neighbor had to move into quarantine, and he looked at us through the bars of his secluded room as we went to light candles.

How things change in a day.

For sure, the world, under the dark shadow of the Coronavirus, is continuing its slide towards uncharted territory, to we-know-not-where.  However – maybe like others – both in our family and in our tiny new kehilla of our immediate neighbors, we made a decision to continue, and try and make the best Shabbat possible.  No-one comes and no-one goes – but we have each other, and we have backyards, balconies, and windows to the outside, so let’s make it happen!

And happen it did.  We went back to the basics.

We spent much family time together, with no youth movements or kids leaving straight after the meals.

We took our time eating the meals, telling stories, divrei torah, and singing.

We played board games after the meals, and just simply hung out, talking to each other without any time pressure.

Our backyard community, consisting of our neighbors and ourselves – to all sides and above us – came together for the prayers, and they worked. Despite the intermittent rain, we shouted the words loud enough for everyone to hear, we sang to lift all our spirits, and someone read from a Torah that he had.  I wonder if the situation has ever happened before, in our long, long history, that required the same person to read everything including the haftorah, and have all 7 aliyot to the Torah, one after another, despite there being about 15 of us in the minyan?


What could have been a disaster for us, turned into something beautiful that was capped off by a musical havdalah on Zoom for the entire community.

For me, this was very reminiscent of a Shabbat I spent in Athens in November 2018, when the infamous delayed El Al flight 002 was diverted there before Shabbat.  There, too, 181 of us were stuck against our desires in a situation we had to come to terms with and deal with. There too, we made the decision to make the best of a bad situation, we made a choice to look on the bright side and create a memorable Shabbat.  It is, after all, all about attitude and perspective.

As my 7-year old said to me at the end of Shabbat: Abba, I liked the Corona-Shabbat – let’s do it again!

I really hope that this does not become the norm for the immediate future, and that by next week we are all back to our regular lives. I have a suspicion that this may be the case for a while. However, that isn’t so bad, all things considered. Shabbat, after all is said and done, is about making the day holy and therefore different from the regular days of the week, and about spending time with your family. This, we all did. And even when things go back to normal, maybe we can take things from this weekend to be the new normal.

May we always be able to look on the bright side of things, and only be healthy.

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of the Ramah Israel Institute for Ramah Israel. He lives in Bet Shemesh with his wife and five children.
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