Reflections on new Corona reality in Two Parts.
Part I of the essay can be read here.
Part II. IMAGINARY WALKS, ILLUSIONARY MEETINGS
Places : Imaginary Walks
Speaking on authenticity and atmosphere, what on earth can replace a place, especially when it is the place?
I am thinking of the skies of Jerusalem every single day, several times a day, in the morning and in the evening, and in the middle of the day, too. I think on Jerusalem’s breeze, I reconstruct the colours of its one and only sky in my head and I almost touch it. The key word is almost.
I miss the Kotel to the degree that one misses a beloved human being. Deeply, innermost, secretly. I miss the Kotel very powerfully, almost tangibly so. The key word is – yes, you’ve guessed it right.
I miss the waters of Kinneret and the air gaze around it. It is a magnetic place for us, but magnet power is not enough now to bring us there.
I miss Safed to the degree of dizziness. I always do, but this time it is a different kind of longing. I am ‘walking’ in my imaginary walks stepping into the Ari’s Synagogue which is one of the most magic places in the world. I am passing near the place where Jochebed, the mother of Moses, is believed to come daily to wait for the Messiah with a cup of tea for him.
I am running, in my head, with enthusiasm as it used to be, towards the place where the Shem’s Academy stayed initially and where his great-son Eber was teaching at the time when Jacob came to study there for thirteen years, the place I knew about and was searching physically for during several hectic hours in one of our many visits to Safed. Nobody knew about it and many people whom I asked about its exact location – I was in proximity already, I knew it – were looking at me in sudden perplexion. “Ma?!. ( what?!.) “ – I was hearing it time and again, with that look, sometimes.
Well, never mind, I founded it. And Michael went to pray there. It was the time of mincha, and minjan started to gather under the beautiful ancient oil tree just next to the still standing stone synagogue.
Can you reproduce the actual atmosphere in the best of the photo? Never. But when I see the eyes of our guests looking at this very picture on our wall, I am glad that we can share this treasure with them.
You can keep the moments like that in your memory’s safe-place, if you are lucky to keep it clear, with G-d’s willing. I do not miss what is in this private safe-place because it is a part of myself.
But some details are popping up from your subconsciousness making you to long increasingly for that huge magnolia tree in the certain garden in Safed, and that horizonless view from a Safed terrace over the incredibly gentle magic Upper Galilee mountains, and then in your persistent imaginary daily walks you are relocating to Jerusalem, the place your never leaved, actually, since your first step on that soil decades back. The place that sustains you ultimately.
Does any photo of the Kotel re-produce its power? Its magic, its spell over our souls? No, it does not. It just directs us towards the place which cleans and empowers believing Jews, and maybe even those who do not believe, too. I saw various photos of the Kotel on many walls in almost every corner of the globe. It always had the meaning of a compass’ arrow.
In the big enlightened premises of the late Charles Krauthammer in Washington DC, there was a giant shot of the Kotel on the wall, situated in the way that it was just in front of Charles who always seated at the certain spot when receiving visitors.
Once Charles noticed that I was impolitely turning my back to him several times, turning repeatedly to see the picture in more detail, and he smiled. Then he said with a note of pride: “The young man in a red shirt praying there is my son”. Krauthammer could not often be seen with such a childish and disarming smile on his face as at the time we spoke on the Kotel, and his son there. I know why he smiled so unreservedly. We have the compass arrow on our walls, but we cannot follow it for the time being, and it feels like an early stage of bewilderment.
I am thinking: it is bad enough for us who were planning as millions others to come to Israel for Pesach again, not to be able to go to the Kotel. But what about those people who are living in Jerusalem and are unable to go to the Kotel? That would be a total disaster for me. My wise husband said in reaction to my lament: “But they are close to it. They know that the Kotel is there, and nearby. They can feel it”. I can feel it too, but the distance claims its toll, there is no question about it.
I do miss all these places which sustain my soul and where we cannot go. I miss it in a big way. Not for an indulgence of pleasure, but for being able to keep my inner resources in a capable mode.
We also miss our beloved Italy, but in this case, interestingly enough, all and every memory of the Italian landscapes in all its variety, do good to me now. All my knowledge of Italy is therapeutic to me in the time of this total global lock-down. It makes me smile and it makes me grateful to Heaven for the possibility to enrich my inner resources with all its unparalleled beauty and its harmony in everything: its culture, its history, its language, its intellectuality, its music, its literature, its architecture, its vision in all and every arts and architecture, its hand-craft, its cuisine, its approach to life, the Renaissance-in-genes, its people, especially so many dear friends of ours, our soulmates. Perhaps, being very lucky to have a massive load of Italy in my inner ‘luggage’, I am simply living on it at the time of corona.
But again, our subconsciousness likes to make its own tricks on us, isn’t it? That game of its own that we are somehow losing always. Of everything in Italy, I do miss one place really badly. I miss Interpreti Veneziani Ensemble concerts at San Vidal church in Venice which has been deconsecrated to become the Ensemble’s principal home concert hall. If we could, we would be going to their concerts there every night a year around. We do have all their records, and they are lovely, but hearing it only increases my longing to walk through the evening streets of my beloved Venice to San Vidal to the real concert.
It is not a coincidence that these very people found a marvellous Museo della Musica in another modest and special former church in Venice, San Maurizio, the museum dedicated to the history of Italian violin-making. Such an obvious idea, one could think, but for some reason, nobody did it before in the way Interpreti Veneziani did. Special people, special places, special concerts, understated and very fine, full of nuances, love and understanding of music, culture and history. A gentle and rewarding magnet of living beauty and unpretending organic elegance in the best sense of it.
Spirituality: Lonely Seders, People-less Holy Week, Dignity and Bravery
We all had no experience of a year when no one was flying for Pesach to Israel. Now we lived through this new reality.
Now we understand how lucky we all were until this year without having a personal experience of lonely Seders. We were terrified of that prospect thinking of so many Jewish people who would be left alone or without their families on Pesach. One of our inventive brainy and super-active friends was applying to everyone: “we must invent something to help those people who are facing lonely Seder, we must do something, think, all of you, please!” We’ve tried. We failed. As far as I know, our friend did not hear anything that would work in that unimaginable, until yesterday, situation, neither he came out with some solution of his own.
Zoom was not an option, really. It just emphasised the quarantine reality.
One after another, I was seeing the photos from this year unique, strange Seders from all over the globe. My attention was especially dragged to the photos of impeccable served parts of a table for one. I thought: how brave our people are. How dignified those lonely Seders were this difficult year. I saw a pre-Seder note from elderly couple celebrating without children, grand- and great-grandchildren, saying: “Tonight, we will have an exclusive Seder for Two!” I love my people’s resilience and dignity in keeping our tradition that unites us as anything else does.
And of course, we have heard the warm voices of dear friends just before the Seder, and the mutual family feeling was keeping us all together more than ever, as was the case for so many of us.
All the time during the Seder, I was thinking of those people having Seder alone. I just can’t stop thinking about them. I still can’t. I also am very proud of them, those who in spite of quarantine, did celebrate the Pesach in such a distinctively caring way. Those people are the salt of our nation, no question about it. Toda Raba to you all.
I am missing the Pesach services in the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. Who does not? I do miss the Great Synagogue’s unique choir, I do miss that Heavenly music conducted by dear Elli Jaffe. It resonates in my ears, and inside me, even in the quietest moment of a day. And it is not the same coming from records and videos. I miss Birkat Kohanim, my favourite part of Pesach and Sukkot liturgy, always performed at the Great Synagogue by that unbelievable Choir not only with that unparalleled beauty but connecting you directly with the World where the souls of your parents and grandparents and your other predecessors, the Kohens, as it happened, are gathered, and you do feel it in a rare moment of physical metaphysical connecting by that spirit and that beauty and that meaning and that effort. What distant mode can ever come an inch close to that?..
The picture of the Birkat Kohanim ceremony this year, 5780, 2020 at the Kotel, with these just over 10 people of minyan selected to present all our people there staying within two meter distance each from another would stay in my memory for good. I was afraid that the Kotel would be closed totally as the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem had to be this year of our new experience of life. We were the part, and the guests, of the Birkat Kohanim ceremony at the Kotel, several times, with all these forty and sometimes seventy thousand people gathered there and around. As a great Jew and so very special man the US Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman noted yesterday after his participation in that minyan of ten at the Kotel, ‘last year I was one of one hundred thousands, this year I was one of ten’. That’s the reverberating, wounding math of the day.
We almost ran there every time for the ceremony although we were always on time. I miss this run now.
And our Christian friends who had to celebrate their Holy Week in people-less motion. The Christian world was deeply impressed by a scene of an emotional Pope Francis praying alone in empty giant St Peter’s Cathedral piazza just before the start of the Holy Week this year. People were trying to support each other, sending encouraging messages of hope and sun on the Easter holidays from their confinement. The Holy Week this year, as our Jewish Pesach did, did show a lot of bravery among the people in different countries, a lot of mutual support and care. The key word here is care, for all of us.
As for the closed synagogues and churches world-wide, the message of lockdown of the places of worship, twice so during Pesach and Easter, but in general too, is devastating. It is devastating because of a number of reasons. I just cite a short quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “where the church is, there is never loneliness”. As always, Bonhoeffer, a brilliant man, was right on the spot.
It was an unprecedented and truly sad spiritual holiday for both Jews and Christians this surreal spring in the year 2020. This sadness was epitomised, to me, in the brave and charitable solo concert that Andrea Bocelli gave to the world, as it happened, from the empty Duomo in Milan, with an emotional organist playing as he sang. The producing team of the broadcast and the Italian TV did a splendid job, as always, sending us the footage from totally empty Milan, Paris, London and New York, as Bocelli sang with that so somber expression on his face inside giant empty Cathedral and then, the last song, just in front of it, on the Duomo’s stairs in mercilessly empty most vivid of Milan places around him. It was not tragic because a good man and great singer sang with love. Andrea Bocelli was trying in full conviction to put a rebuke to despair and he and his team did it admirably.
But everything that we all in many countries have seen during those 28 minutes of live broadcast from Milan was painfully sad. Extremely sad. Alarmingly sad. Our beautiful cities, the pride of civilisation, were not ghosts, it could not be perceived like that. But they, in all their splendor which all is the result of a human talent and effort, were puzzled. They were as if asking us: what is that? How is it possible? For how long? The lonely car moving around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or a couple of cars stopped at traffic lights in London only emphasised the lifelessness of our favourite cities, centres of lives of millions. We all saw anti-utopia that became a palpable reality. The only one that we have at the moment, actually.
And yet, the time of so-awaited Spring Holidays, being so drastically surreal this year, also happened to be a warming up one, and this is what matters. I do hope that this is how we will remember it: by caring and warming each other.
My close friend, a Jewish person who keeps his inner world to himself normally and guards it tightly, wrote publicly under the nostalgic photo of an elegant church in his native city where he does not live for the biggest part of his life: “I am not a man of that faith, but I am a man of faith. My childhood and adolescence were passed by this, the most beautiful church in my native city’. I know exactly what he meant, and I am glad to have such people as close friends. Our humanity, in its extended form, importantly, is the only proven recipe of surviving, and these days we are experiencing it in an active mode, each of us.
People: Hugs, Laughs, and People-Whom-I- Have-Not- Met. Yet
Amidst non-happened concerts and performances, aborted travels and important places, being deeply affected by the very fact of closed synagogues and churches, it is people whom I miss the most.
What is the essence of missing? It is longing. What is the essence of longing? Beloved Leonard Cohen was an indisputable expert on that. I feel the world without his physical presence as a more chilly and windy place, but I am glad that he and some other great friends and our parents and families were spared of this new corona reality. It would be too much for them, especially those who did live through the Second World War, the Holocaust and the time and world after that.
The essence of longing is an acute realisation that your oxygen is decreasing, and the new portion of it is not to be delivered in time, for some while, at least.
In this long list of things missing under the corona reality, there is one position that stands alone, and the feeling of missing it is growing all the time under the corona quarantine pressure acutely.
I do miss people the most. I miss hugs and laughs, a spark in an eye and sudden smiles, and understanding mutual silence – not on screens. I think I would have an allergy to screen-socialising for a long time ahead. It only emphasises the absence of a real thing, to me. And this is a huge, formatting void.
It is true, of course, on a massive relief to have a possibility to be in touch via all Zooms and other channels. I am trying to be pragmatic and reasonable on this.
But our reasoning comes to a fiasco when confronted with our inner feeling of longing for a colleague, a teacher, a student, not to speak about family and friends. It is so very simple, really. Those of us who are lucky and privileged to have their family members as their friends, and their friends as their family, are missing terribly this circle of people in a touchable reality. We are wounded by sudden deprivation of our inner peace that has been secured by the previously existing normality of a possibility of seeing them when we needed or wanted to.
To be cut off from people is the worst plaque of this new reality of ours in the time of corona, to me. It bears in it-cold-self a terrifying prospect of missing something important in your life for good. The emptiness of life in matters of people creates a painful, unnatural lacuna of unique phenomena – smiles, thoughts, ideas, memories, touches – that meant to be a part of you and your life but it would not happen. This is a time-dependent deficiency. It is an oxygen of livelihood. It cannot be re-done.
I do miss my family’s gatherings, I do miss my friends in so many places all over the world, I do miss them in my proximity too. I do miss my colleagues, here in my country and everywhere else. I may even start to miss my opponents at some stage of this ongoing quarantine depending on how long we will be locked in in our respective countries.
And strangely but tangibly, I am missing the people whom I did not meet yet, but could have met if this corona time would not impose its thick weird cloud all over all of us.
My self-cure? Imagination and planning. I am imagining the meetings with beloved people, and with my husband we are busy with planning two major things additionally to all growing working plans and projects: the parties that we will host for our friends at our garden and house, and the trips to see our family and friends when the situation will return to normal. It is a long list, very fortunately.
Part I of the essay can be read here.