Passover in the time of coronavirus

(A. Hecht)

All at once, suddenly, each and every one of us is stuck inside our own homes, unable to leave.  Suddenly, there is a real threat to our very existence if we simply leave our homes.  Suddenly, an invisible enemy threatens our lives both here in Israel and everywhere around the world.

What a shock!!

It is hard not to draw comparisons with the Ten Plagues in the lead up to Passover. What will be the outcome of this plague? Will we win against it?

The suddenness of the change to our reality is something that is affecting how we find ourselves coping. I hear many Israelis saying that unlike war, we have no idea when this will end. It highlights the level of stress that people are under for things like this to be said.

Many people are now completely alone in their homes and this is an extremely difficult situation for them. People are alone with their feelings. It can bring to the surface many, including negative thoughts and emotions, often without warning.

Understandably, and to varying degrees, everyone has one or a mixture of the following; anxiety, fear, a sense of disintegration of our world, despair of human meaning, human contact, human experience, loss of one’s self, and a loss of a sense of existence.  The list is long and extreme. The fear of the coronavirus is so great that it is capturing our minds and it is difficult to see beyond it.

This fear is something I am seeing with many of my patients during these past few weeks. Suddenly other issues that we have been exploring together are forced into the background, as the coronavirus has taken center stage. My function has been to mirror, contain and validate my patients through this difficult period.

I have working mothers saying the boundaries between their work and home lives have completely collapsed. That it is impossible to put work first when they need to comfort, feed, entertain and supervise the home schooling of their children. Then there is the very real threat or the news that jobs have been lost…

Families are living and working often in small apartments with no outlet and no obvious way to leave for an extended period of time. To add to this extraordinary, sudden change in routine the upcoming Passover holiday which is traditionally spent with extended families – this year it is simply not allowed.

I believe the best way through this unprecedented time is to appreciate its magnitude and try and unravel its significance. Instead of feeling “stuck” at home, we can choose to see that we are “safe” at home. While dealing with the coronavirus it is true that we are stuck in our homes for long stretches of time in order to protect ourselves.  And yes, on a global scale it is an unbearable crisis which if you wished, you could follow 24 hours a day on the news and social media.

Yet, it can be a valuable opportunity for fundamental changes in our lives, in ourselves, our being, our internal and our outer world.  It can be an opportunity to reflect on our values and a way to better exist in the world. To realize that we are indeed human living amongst other humans.  A chance to look at the kinds of systems we have created around us, how connected we are with our families and various social circles. To determine our ability to thrive not only despite but perhaps because of the crisis.

It is a unique opportunity to reflect on our behaviors.  Do we express sufficient acceptance, love, compassion, respect?  Are we nice to ourselves and to others? What is important to us and what could we let go?

During this intense period, the family as a unit has been together in the home day in day out, with the same coronavirus threatening us all.  In this vein, each one of us is experiencing emotions in a different way and has subjective perceptions of the events taking place.  How well each member copes depends to a great extent on the level of support, understanding, and listening one receives, and the person’s ability to see another’s subjective feelings and thoughts.  This terrible crisis can be a great opportunity for family bonding, connecting, loving, giving, and being sensitive to each other.

Everyone has their own strengths, of varying degrees and now is the time to draw on those, to connect with ourselves and express ourselves in new ways. The coronavirus pandemic attacked us without warning causing an unbearable sense of instability and chaos.  The whole world had been open to us and suddenly we lost it, and together with it we lost our freedom. The wider world which made sense to us was dramatically taken away.

We were once slaves in Egypt who found freedom. Maybe this time of coronavirus is an opportunity to ask ourselves if we have been appreciative enough of our freedom? Maybe this is a chance to become better people in a better world. This crisis can be an opportunity for real change for us all.

Dr Sara Genstil, PhD


About the Author
I have 35 years experience in the field of Psychology and have practiced for many years in both the United States and Israel. I have a B.A. and M.A. in Social Work from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the California Graduate Institute (CGI) with a psychoanalytic orientation. After completion of my Ph.D., I did a post-doctorate with Robert Stolorow, Ph.D., the global leading authority in Intersubjective Systems Theory. Since 1983, I have been practicing psychology using the Intersubjective Systems Theory.
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