Friday, March 27, 2020

Welcoming Shabbat In Lockdown From Our Balconies

My neighbour Hagai called in the early afternoon. "We're doing the Welcoming Shabbat service from our balconies at 6.30. Can you spread the word?" Actually we have a building WhatsApp group so I sent the word (and asked for Hagai to be added to it).

You need 10 [men - grrrr] over the age of 13, for a full service and one of our neighbours is saying Kaddish (the mourners' prayer) after the loss of his father, so it was especially important for him to have a minyan (quorum of 10 men). 

At 18.30 we all went onto our balconies and those without balconies stood at their front windows. The sun was setting. Chuck from downstairs, who is saying Kaddish, stood out front and counted the men. We had 10 but we were still quite spread out so some of the men from Entrance A came and stood spaced out on the road between Entrances B and C. 

At the beginning it was a bit like the intro to The Brady Bunch when they're all in their own boxes looking up and down at each other. But as we they started to pray, it became more like a scene from a shtetl in 1800s Eastern Europe. I half expected to see the Fiddler on the Roof come dancing down the street.

Chuck led the afternoon service for weekdays. Then Hagai came down and led the Welcoming Shabbat service. Finally the new tenant from apartment 4, Saadia, went down to lead the evening service for Shabbat.

Along the way, others who were walking past or had heard the singing from nearby buildings joined us. Some went back to get their prayer books as all passers by lived within the 100 metre limit from their homes.  

It was very special. The last time all the residents met up without arguing over the building maintenance was when there was a fire in apartment 20 and we all ran out into the road, The time before that was during the last war when we all met up in our pyjamas in the bomb shelter. Nothing like a good crisis to bring people together. 

I took photos though you're not supposed to be using a camera on Shabbat. I didn't have the chutzpah to go down to the street and take a photo of everyone from below. (Which is why I could never be a journalist.) 

Hagai asked who wanted to meet at 08.30 tomorrow for the Morning Services. He counted to see if they would have enough men. "We are three, Saadia and his son, Mendy, Oz, Michael.... where's Michael? Michael!?"
"I'm here, yes I'll be there."
"Chuck, Ivan, Brigitte's husband. Where's Brigitte's Husband?"
"He didn't come out."
"He went to a minyan around the corner."
"I'll be there!" came a voice from below me.
"Ok, I think we'll have enough. See you all tomorrow morning, Shabbat Shalom!"
"Shabbat Shalom!"
"Shabbat Shalom!"

I shall sit on my balcony in my dressing gown, with a cup of coffee, reading my book, and generally soaking up the atmosphere. Now that's the perfect way to do synagogue if you ask me. 

And if we're still in lockdown next week it'll be 18.40 on the balconies to welcome next Shabbat. 

Shabbat Shalom xxx

Thursday, March 26, 2020

R2BC - Back With A Linky

Planter meadows on my blacony
Reasons 2B Cheerful is back with a linky so we are a community small group again. Hooray! Here is the R2BC Linky  on Becky's Lakes Single Mum, and here are my reasons for this week of lockdown. 

Meadow Garden
After so much rain this winter and even into the spring, my planters on the balcony are looking like tiny meadows. I should do some gardening and plant some vegetables, herbs, etc... but in the Middle East, any greenery is welcome so I don't want to dig up my tiny meadows.

A Long View
I live on the side of a mountain, facing down into the valley. Opposite my building is a school two storeys lower than my apartment and further down the slope. This gives us a long vista over Jerusalem and the mountains beyond. However beautiful your garden might be, I think it's much easier to be in lockdown if you have a long view from your window. You don't feel so shut in.

The Kinneret
As of today the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is only 44 cm from the upper red line. I.e. almost totally full to capacity. They will almost certainly have to open the Degania Dam and let water flow down the Jordan to the Dead Sea. This is hugely exciting in a region used to droughts. It hasn's happened in 28 years, since April 1992.

Being Home
I actually like being at home. I love my home. I like not having to jump to the alarm clock in the morning and being able to guiltlessly stay up as late I want. I like pottering about, cooking, organising, watching tv, reading.... I could be happy with this for another couple of weeks.

We, and that's a global we, are no longer sleep deprived.

Lots of helping initiatives have sprung up and are being shared on facebook. From shopping for those in enforced isolation to listening ears and emergency information and advice.

Videos Of Love
Our school music teacher, Na'ama Berlowitz, has been putting together short presentations and videos that are sent to all the children in our school via the class whatsApp groups. The latest is the school choir singing Yoter (More) with pictures sent in by the staff of them illustrating each line.

The song tells us that we have everything we need already, just ask for more of the good things: more love, more hope, more peace, more trust, more respect, more thought, more understanding, more faith, more God, more happiness, more soul, more prayer, more purpose, more life, and more togetherness. (Not necessarily in that order.)

Seder Night
The link above gives a brief explanation of seder night as well as the story of the last time it turned out very different than planned for us.

We went from planning to go to London to be with our family for Pesach (Passover) and specifically the first night for the seder, to arranging to go to friends in Jerusalem, to realizing that it would be just us two on our own, to hearing that one of the chief rabbis in Israel has allowed families to do the seder with Zoom. Ordinarily we'd not use any electrical devices as it's a holy day like Shabbat. So maybe we won't be so alone after all.

When the youngest present sings the refrain, "why is this night different from all other nights?" the full answer won't be written in the order of service this year.

Lots of hilarious jokes and memes. Not to make light of a very serious and for some, tragic, situation, but you need to laugh to save your sanity. My favourite from today was: Starbucks is closed so I made myself coffee, called my name out incorrectly, set fire to a $5 note, and then walked around the house looking for a place to sit.

From yesterday: I got so drunk last night I don't even know how I got home from the kitchen.

Clean Air
All this has been a plus for clean air and global warming. Pollution is down, greenhouse gases are down, less fossil fuel being used up, fewer trees being cut down, less building. Some have suggested that it's Mother Earth fighting back. Who knows? Whatever you believe. However, there's no denying that the natural world is benefiting from this pandemic.

Feel free to add your R2BC in the comments.
I wish you health and sanity, xxx

Saturday, March 21, 2020

I Discovered Sport

Although I've been out a couple of times this week to the bank and to the supermarket, DD hadn't left the apartment for over a week. She was quite happy staying in - we're an indoors sort of family. However, it's also been very cold and wet so the sitting on the balcony for a while every day, in the afternoon sun, to boost vitamin D wasn't happening.

This afternoon one of DD's friends asked her to go to the school with her roller blades. I also needed some fresh air and exercise so I went with her. DD's BFF was already there with her Dad and their dog. So they have to go out a few times a day to walk the dog anyway. The rule in Israel atm is that unorganised sport of no more than five people is allowed. And we are allowed to go for short walks in the nieghbourhood as long as we keep the 2 m distance.

Not only were we unorganised, we were disorganised as well so no rule broken there. DD and BFF went on their roller blades. The Dad had brought along a basketball and he was shooting hoops. I joined him. Not since school days have I played netball but I do remember that I liked being goal shooter best as I was ok at that - you didn't have to do much running.

It was actually fun. "Hey, this is fun!" I exclaimed. And a bit later as I chased the ball, "Hey look!, I'm running!" I know this is pathetic and I do keep meaning to get more active and fit but for the longest time I had bad knee problems - a bursitis and some other stuff. I couldn't run for ages but since then the knee things seem to have improved a lot.

Tbh, after a while shooting netballs did get boring but by then super-family had pulled out the frisbee. I took some photos of that while the dog took my place in the game.

Then it started to rain so we sheltered under the covered pergola, made some conversation phone calls, and went home. (Just kidding, of course we chatted.) We'd been out and active for two hours and here's the amazing thing.....

1. We felt happy and relaxed.
2. I served a late lunch and DD sat down and ate it all without a whole fuss about what she didn't like/want and what she wasn't going to eat.
3. For the rest of the afternoon we didn't have one blow up or even a tiny argument.

Obviously I knew the theory of this beforehand and I have tried to get DD outside during the week but she never wanted to and I didn't want her to come to the supermarket and bank with me, which were the only places I went to last week.

This coming week, we are so going for regular walks around the park.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Home Schooling In A Foreign Language

She started her education with so much promise. 
First lesson, 09.00 - 10.00 maths. We got off to a good start. The assignment was to complete five pages about area and one page starting the notion of volume. There wasn't actually much calculating to do but there was a lot of explanation and wordy word problems. This is our downfall as it takes us ages to work out what it means. I was with DD all the way - it's easier for me because at least I know the maths in advance. Needless to say I didn't get any of my work done.

10.00 is supposed to be a snack break. We missed it as we were still doing maths.

At 10.something history started. DD abandoned the rest of maths only half done. We went to the page in her history book and were horrified to see a double page article to read, in Hebrew of course, on the autonomy of the Judean State in Hellenistic Times. My cultural background at this age is A Day in the Life of a Viking. I was lost before we started.

The first question was: What does autonomy mean? That was easy. I wrote a sentence straight onto Google Translate and DD copied it into her history notebook.

Next, and final question: Describe the autonomy of Judea in the time of the Hellenic Empire. I went to Wikipedia in English, copy-pasted a paragraph onto Google Translate, edited it down, and DD photographed it with her cell phone. Done.

Before we got to the next subject - English, a message from the class teacher came through that there was a live interactive broadcast of something at 11.00 and they could tune in to it. I scanned the message and saw the word, "tosefet". That means it's an extra not an obligation. Phew. We didn't go there.

But we'd missed the start of English at 11.something.
DD: "Shall I do the English now or finish my maths?"
I thought it was better to get maths out of the way but DD was concerned because it was English time. Suddenly a message came through with a link to a maths quiz on percentages. You had to do it over and over until you got it all correct. I don't know if there was a time factor but the pressure was on and DD kept making mistakes. In the end I sat with her and told her the answers.

We had the 'shall I do English or maths?' discussion again. I insisted that she we I finish maths. Suddenly DD was asked via Whatsapp to write five good things that happened today. I had loads of great ideas: I didn't have to go out in the cold, rainy weather, for example.
DD:"No! That didn't happen. It has to be things that happened or we did."
Me: "I finished my maths and photographed my History and I'm going to do my English if I get a moment's peace from Whatsapp."
DD: "Mummy you're ridiculous."

In the end she looked at what everyone else was writing and copied a few of the others. Then I made lunch as it was already 2 pm and school was supposed to finish at 12.30. Then I made her do her English. Then I sat down to do some of my own work and found that I didn't have the energy.

And now we learned that today is the final day of home school. *DD dances around the apartment with joy.* Instead they are taking 9 days off the summer holiday, with the optimistic view that we will be returning to school after Pesach. *DD virtually in tears.* Life is indeed an emotional roller coaster atm. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Will Universal Basic Income Save The Economy?

Don't be so quick to object. 
I am no economist although I did do Economics A Level, and this is a blog post not an in-depth analysis based on hours of academic research. That said, here are some half-baked ideas after reading a few popular articles about how to save the economy. Please feel free to discuss it with me in the comments or on facebook but don't be rude. This is an idea that deserves a conversation at least.

The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) is not new. It means that every individual gets a government grant to cover rent, modest utilities, basic clothing, and food. Here are some benefits of this system:

1. Basic needs. No one need worry about basic needs.
2. Social benefits. UBI is given to individuals, not households, so people in difficult marriages would be able to leave but otoh, it would encourage people to live in families or shared accommodation in order to pool resources.
3. Lifestyle, health and relationships. More free time will allow people to do more voluntary work, invest in family relationships, be less stressed, and pursue employment that makes them happy rather than being forced to take jobs they hate.
4. Empower the workforce. Workers will not need to accept bad working conditions as they can now walk away. As an example, I would rather work in a shop than clean a school or hospital. As no one needs to clean a school to keep a roof over their heads, less desirable jobs like this would have to pay more in order to attract employees. Some people with limited employable skills would take these jobs because they pay more than easier employment.
5. The corona effect. After corona we will have proved that working remotely is effective. Fewer employees need to live close to work. This will allow people to move back to once thriving but now dying towns where there is plenty of cheap housing. More housing can be built in sparsely populated areas far from the centres. This will reduce demand in the centres and rents/house prices will go down. Meanwhile in the new areas, they will need new schools, shops and other services to help build up a thriving economy and society. Living will be cheaper.
6. Increased employment opportunities. Shared and part time employment will distribute the available work hours among more people. No one will need to work 10 hours a day so most people will opt to work fewer hours.

Some potential problems and why they're not necessarily founded.

1. Where will the money come from? Other social benefits, including pensions, will be stopped. Most people will still work and be taxed (see below). Increase taxation on carbon footprints for industry and commerce, not individuals. Inheritance tax (this one hurts but it encourages people to spend, it encourages a slower pace of life i.e. not chasing wealth that you'll never spend and in a fairer society it evens out the starting line). Property and land tax. VAT.
2. Why would anyone work? Because most of us want to go out to eat once in while, go on holiday, travel a bit, buy things other than basics, upgrade our lifestyles, pursue hobbies, redecorate, etc... Also, we live in communities where we need to keep up with the social norms be it hosting barbecues or evenings/days out with friends.
Most people want to feel useful, the social aspect of getting out and meeting people, idleness becomes boring after a while.
There will also still be a status attached to contributing to society, a moral aspect that most of us will buy into as we already do.

*When I write 'most people' this is just my opinion not a proven statistic.
*Although limited experiments on UBI have been done around the world and it seems that my opinion is largely supported.
*I have not done the maths and I have no idea if this is financially viable.
*I wouldn't even know how to do the financial analysis of this.
*I'm not recommending UBI but rather opening the conversation.
*There are many articles online about UBI, just google it.
*I did google it so please don't send me the articles you find online. Just comment on what you found interesting.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Reasons 2B Cheerful And Grateful

Some Chihuli for serenity
After yesterdays's meltdown post it's time for a Reasons 2B Cheerful and Grateful, Here are some of my reasons in no particular order:

1. The internet makes us feel connected. During the 1991 Gulf War we could only talk to one person at a time by landline, if they were home. News was passed one person at a time and from the hourly news on the radio. Back then we felt informed but thinking about it now, it was a joke.

2. I have one child who is old enough to entertain herself. We are two people in a not big but certainly spacious enough apartment with a balcony big enough to sit out on. And even though DD spilled water on her laptop a few weeks ago, so we are one computer down, we still have two more laptops, two phones, and a smart tv with Netflix. Oh yes, and books to last the duration.

3. My next door neighbour who is in quarantine got her corona test results back this week and she tested negative. Also, of the 60 boys (two classes) from my school who are in quarantine until tomorrow evening after a visiting teacher came down with corona, none of them have tested positive so far.

4. Home school starts at 09.00 which is far more civilized than the normal 08.00, especially as we don't have to allow time to get there looking presentable. Call me British, but I'm British and we're programmed to start at 9.

5. After screaming and shouting at me yesterday, and reducing me to tears, DD came to give me a big hug and apologize. Hearing her say, "I'm sorry Mummy," made me grateful that she knows how to say sorry. It's so important to be able to say sorry when you messed up or lost it.

6. The message is going around and sinking in that three assignments per day per child is overwhelming for many families with lots of children, parents working from home, and limited tech devices.

7. DD's teacher asked them all to write on the class whatsapp what they learned today. The first child wrote that it's possible to learn at home and it's actually fun. Then 28 students all said the same thing. So DD wrote that too. Me: "What? After all the hysterics today?"
DD: "Mummy, you don't understand, you have to be more laid back."
ME: "You mean you have to lie?"
DD: "Sort of, but it's called laid back."

8. I won the internet today but I cheated. I saw a meme on Whatsapp in Hebrew (thank you Yana) and I translated into English for the English corona in Israel facebook group..... The truth is that it's not so boring to be stuck at home. However, it is interesting that one sack of rice contains 7,885 grains of rice and another sack - 8,143. Nearing 200 haha emojis as I write.

9. Lots of blogging fodder and the time to blog. If I don't get back into the TOTS100 top 500 by next month I'll be extremely miffed.

10. We, and all our family are still healthy.

I wish you good health and sanity for the duration. xxx

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lockdown Meltdown And Losing The Plot

The almond tree
in the school vegetable garden has blossomed.
We have not blossomed.
Yesterday I got up bright and early and ready to start the lockdown routine. I went to my school to collect all my books. DD had been to her school on Saturday evening to clear out her locker. (Yes, they told us to take EVERYTHING! What does that tell you about the thinking here? Kids were signed out once they had cleared their lockers.)

I didn't go to the bank on the way home because I was carrying a heavy load of books, so that's still to do, but not today.

DD was still in pyjamas when I got home, and watching You Tube. Her bedroom looked like a bomb had hit it with her bed unmade and all her school books everywhere.

I calmly continued with my planned schedule by setting up homework for my school pupils. Then I smugly filled in my Day Book about the morning's activities and went to make lunch. This is where it all started to fall apart.

DD didn't want any lunch and insisted on taking a bag of crisps instead. Later she came back for some cake. I said that I'm not buying any more sugar things because she eats them instead of proper food and it makes her irritable off-the-wall crazy mad. She screamed at me that I was talking rubbish. (She didn't see the irony.) She stomped off, I ate too much to calm my nerves. She hated me. I hated myself. And that was lunch on day 1.

In the afternoon I insisted that we watch a documentary together. We chose one about the history of astrology. She sat on her phone saying that it was boring. I was totally fascinated and spent the rest of the day watching more and more programmes about the link between astrology and religion. Then I fell asleep on the sofa.

DD did do some painting in the afternoon but she refused to enter into the spirit of the day book at all.

Day 2. I vowed to do better. We got up and I got dressed. DD: "Why? It's just a waste of clothes!" I had no answer.

At 09.00 DD had to sign in for school with an emoji on the class whatsapp expressing how she was feeling. They have 'classes' until 12.30 every day with the teachers available on email, whatsapp and phones. The first lesson this morning was English so we were cool.

I had set up a laptop for her on the dining table but luckily today's work was all in notebooks and on the phone. Others are reporting that so many kids are on the educational websites that they're all crashing. Other families are trying to juggle one computer amongst several kids and working at home parents. It's a jungle out there.

Next DD had geography and I had to set up two classes of work online in lieu of my lessons in college tomorrow. DD didn't understand what she had to do and neither did I - 6th grade Hebrew and all. She had a meltdown. I called one of her friends to ask. She screamed at me that I was embarrassing her. Now that I knew what it was about, I wrote down some reasons why we still need to save water despite desalination. She screamed at me that I don't know anything. I burst into tears. I wrote to the class teacher that I don't think we can do this.

Eventually we came up with a good rhyming couplet to encourage saving water and used google to check our Hebrew spelling. Part of the problem was seeing everyone else sending in great jingles. DD crumpled under the double pressure of writing something and then having everyone see it.

DD was finally happy. I had to eat a packet of crisps.

Then came Tenach (Bible Studies). This is not only in Hebrew, it's in biblical Hebrew (think Shakespeare for EFL students) and there's a website involved. We gave up.

I've not done any of my work but I'm exhausted and I've got a headache and I'm still a bit teary and fragile from the whole experience. I'm blogging to get it off my chest and then I'm going to find out more about Noah's Ark, Moses, Mithras, The Budha, Joseph and Jesus all being based on Pagan myths about the sun and the stars.

I'm done for the day, I'm done in, and it's only 11.30 am. We'll try again tomorrow.

Friday, March 13, 2020

No School Reality Sets In

Life was easier when this was school work.
Today was only the first day of no school and Friday is quasi-weekend so it doesn't really count. Thus, writing advice about how to deal with no school perhaps seems a tad premature. However, I've something to say and a platform so I'm going to say it. And when the UK and US close their schools, maybe someone will remember this post.

Last night DD was dancing around the apartment with joy, chatting to her friends on whatsapp, and generally on a high, not believing her luck.

I admit that I was quite liking the idea of all that time at home to pursue my own interests without daily work obligations, even though I'm very happy in my jobs. But then reality set in. We will have obligations.

It very quickly became apparent that the children and students will have online work to complete. Teachers with little knowledge of how to create online courses, are suddenly required to put assignments, quizzes, lessons, presentations, etc... on various education platforms that they are not familiar with and the children/students do not know how to navigate.

Read this article.

It explains exactly what I was thinking. Not all pupils have access to computers, printers, cameras, and any other tech devices. Some of them are working on their phones which we all know is inconvenient and frustrating to say the least. Most of them are sharing a computer with other pupils, students and parents working from home. Devices go wrong or break, and then they're even more handicapped.

Some of them may be looking after younger siblings or helping to care for sick relatives. They may not have a quiet place to work or a parent who can help them. Scheduled meet-up lessons are a no-no.

Some of them may be stuck at home with people with anger issues or who are abusive. Some children's only respite is when they escape to school. Some children only get their square meals provided for them by the school. There may be emotional issues that prevent school work from getting done. Don't expect them to work to deadlines.

DD's teacher sent a beautiful graphic of a schedule where pupils could write in what they did each day against a list of eight things: morning routine, something educational, physical exercise, reading, Pesach cleaning (spring cleaning), screen time, a family activity, and evening routine.

Then there was a meal schedule where you could write in whose turn it is to help prepare the meal, cut the vegetables, lay the table, clear away and do the dishes. Good for a family of four or more, not so relevant to our family of two. We just do it all together. I just do it.

I think it's a great idea in theory but every family is different. We are not good at sticking to schedules or having routines. We are a very laid back family. We fulfill our obligations on the fly and rely heavily on the panic monster. We waste hours just hanging out. We look forward to Friday afternoon and then 'POOF!' the weekend is gone before we even did anything. We're not tech savvy and we're not crafty. Being expats, we don't even know the language that well. (DD was born here but we live an English life.)

I dread what's coming. I'm already composing my opting out letter in my head. Home schooling would be a disaster for us. Maybe we'll have to change. I always wanted to be highly disciplined and self-motivated but I know myself and unfortunately for her, DD has learned my lifestyle well.

I too have to set work for my pupils and students. I'm feeling the pressure as all heads of departments seem to think we'll have it up and running by Monday - all seven classes in my case! (Luckily one of my courses is already online).

I'm going to think about it very carefully. I intend for us to go to the park every day and use the work-out equipment, I would like us to watch a tv documentary every day on whatever takes DD's fancy, I'd like to take up the recorder again but I don't think DD will go for it. We will definitely do the spring cleaning. Maybe cook together, except that she only like pasta with cheese (no sauce), tuna salad, and sausages and chips.

I'll let you know what happens.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Israel Today In Corona Times

Because I forgot to take a photo of the bus. 
Israel has banned all inside gatherings of more than 100 people.

All incoming air passengers from abroad are compelled by law to be in self-isolation for 14 days. This has to be in a private residence, not in a hotel. Tourists are being encouraged to leave asap. 

One of my colleagues is supposed to be getting married next week with a big wedding planned. It's not going to happen as planned, that's for sure. 

On the buses the first one or two rows behind the driver are cordoned off so that no one can sit behind the driver and cough or even breathe on him. Taxis that are working are driving with all the windows open. 

I now know people in quarantine who I spoke to face to face before they entered self-isolation. I have made deliveries to friends in quarantine and left them at the door. My neighbour came back from abroad and is in quarantine so we are going to have coffee dates on our neighbouring (though not adjoining) balconies.

In fact tens of thousands are in self-isolation, possibly up to 1% of the country. This includes whole schools and Synagogue communities.

The cashiers in the supermarket are wearing surgical gloves. Apparently at one supermarket, they are taking everyone's temperature before they let them in. (Rami Levy in Jerusalem).

No parents are allowed to enter the schools, only students and staff. 

Another colleague was going to America with her family of six to finalize the children's US citizenship. It's an enormously expensive trip and they are not a family who ever travel abroad normally. They have cancelled and will possibly recoup half their money. 

On the bright side, Israel produces enough fruit, vegetables, dairy, eggs and chicken, to be permanently self sufficient. And we have enough grain, sugar and beef to last the next six months, for everyone. (I don't know about toilet paper but there seems to be plenty in the supermarkets I've been to.)

Despite this, people are stockpiling for the next three-four weeks. We're not worried about shortages but rather that we may be told to go into self-isolation immediately. All it takes is for one person who was at synagogue, one colleague, or one child at school to test positive. This happened to a friend of mine. You get a notice and there's no just popping out to the supermarket before you start. It's immediate with a penalty of up to 7 years in jail for not complying.  

I changed a coffee date for tomorrow morning to a going for a walk date. Or if it's raining we'll drink coffee at my place. Yes, it has got to the stage where I don't feel comfortable sitting in a cafe. Theatres are closed. 100 hotels are closed and 100 more due to close on Sunday. 

Many businesses are now fully working from homes for the next month. Others have enforced unpaid leave on their workers because e.g. in the tourist industry, there are no clients.

People are already reluctant to spend money because of the economy. Many families live pay-cheque to pay-cheque and have hefty mortgages. Obviously this has a knock on effect and will only get worse. 

And I'm pleased that this country is taking it so seriously because I read horrific descriptions about what's happening in Northern Italy atm. I won't post links as even in the midst of all this, I still have this aversion to being a panic monger. But you can google it and find out for yourself. 

Breaking news is that they may be canceling all schools and colleges until after Passover (Pesach) - April 19th. The Ministry of Education is pushing for it and they are discussing with the government now.

UPDATE: SCHOOLS CLOSED UNTIL AFTER PESACH. DD is dancing around the apartment with joy. (Don't tell her that they'll probably take three weeks off the summer holidays.) Other families are freaking out. One good thing is that the closure doesn't include kindergartens or special ed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A Day In The Life Of Corona Times

Miss Amy Miles' Dolls' House, the V&A, 1000 pieces.
Schools in Israel have a three day holiday for the festival of Purim. I've written about this before. It's our Carnival, Mardi Gras, dressing up, parades, exchanging gifts of food, a festive meal and listening to the story of Queen Esther (not necessarily in that order of importance).

The actual festival is tonight and tomorrow in most of Israel, and the Jewish diaspora, but tomorrow night and Wednesday in walled cities like Jerusalem (even though most of the city is now outside the ancient walls). Today was a fast day - most Jewish festivals have a nearby fast. It seems that our sages knew a thing or two about the benefits of intermittent fasting centuries before it was a 'thing'. Fast days are usually half days (meaning we finish a couple of hours early) in schools but a couple of years ago the Education Ministry accidently printed it as a full holiday on their school calendars. It was a mistake but since then it's been a full day off. LOL.

First port of call today was the bank to deposit a cheque that would normally have waited until I was passing. However, one of my colleagues is in self-isolation after returning from France and after being at work for a couple of days. The directive was retroactive so home she went for the 14 day duration. Another friend returned from the US on Friday and popped over yesterday. We chatted in my home. Then this evening it was announced that all travelers returning from abroad have to self quarantine for 14 days, but not retroactively so he's ok. All it would take is for one person I've been with, or a student or teacher from my school or college, to test positive for corona and I'd be confined to my apartment for two weeks. So the cheque needed to be deposited today.

On the way home I went to the supermarket and stocked up on more food. It was the little local supermarket so more expensive than the big one and not much choice of tinned foods. I may go to the big shop tomorrow morning. I did see a good deal on toilet rolls so I got another couple of packets. We now have enough toilet paper for about three months. You can call it panic buying but actually it's sensible because there's no just popping out once you get the notice. You could be arrested... and you could be responsible for killing someone.

People out and about were greeting each other by knocking elbows. Social distance doncha know. It's all a bit Dunkirk spirit for most of us but terrifying for those with chronic conditions or with compromised immunity. This is why we're taking it seriously and doing as we're told.

Another friend came in from Switzerland yesterday and is under 'house arrest' as Switzerland was on the list before the worldwide ban came into effect. She's a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast so I took two big puzzles round to her house. She buzzed open the front door from upstairs and I left them just inside the hall.

Tomorrow night we're going to a Purim party to hear the Story of Esther and enjoy a festive meal with friends. Special readings are being streamed and broadcast on the radio for those in quarantine.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Five Things I'm Doing In Corona Times

About 2 months' supply for two people.
I may get one more tomorrow.
Israel is a small country with relatively easy border controls, mainly because we are officially at war or, at best, at cold peace, with all our neighours so we never had open borders and always have strong security at air and sea ports. With the threat of the corona pandemic, the Health Ministry is playing it safe. Quite drastic measures are in place and enforced by law.

There is list of about 15 countries in Eastern Asia, Europe, and the Middle East from which tourists are barred entry (plane loads have been sent back after Israeli citizens disembark). Israelis returning from these countries are, by law, required to go into self-isolation for 14 days.

All gatherings of over 5,000 people are canceled, including the Jerusalem Marathon. All international conferences have been canceled. We are advised not to travel abroad unnecessarily and most business trips have been canceled. Anyone returning from anywhere abroad is forbidden from gatherings of more than 100 people for 14 days.

Between 50,000 and 80,000 Israelis are now in self-isolation. You have to register and they come in hazmat suits to test you. Facebook is full of offers to do supermarket runs and leave supplies outside front doors. We got a letter from DD's school saying that whilst no pupils or teachers are in quarantine atm, some family members are. This is also true of the school where I teach. Some schools have officially closed until after Pesach/Easter but with online lessons and assignments.

A tourist from NYC has the virus and anyone who was in the same place or on the same buses has to go into quarantine. This tourist visited supermarkets and coffee shops in my neighbourhood.

Reactions to Health Ministry directives range from blind panic - mostly from people with real reason to fear they or their family getting sick, or those who tend towards hysterics anyway so if it weren't for corona, they'd be hysterical about something else - to total blase disregard -  from healthy families of the middle age range who've been medically lucky so far. And of course every emotion in between.

A wise friend wrote on facebook -
Can people please acknowledge that management of Corona is a really complicated problem. It requires expertise in mathematical modeling, immunology, economics, epidemiology, psychology and international relations.
Nothing that the health ministry is doing is 'stupid'.
I shared it.

My take on the rigid steps taken in Israel is that they're pitching it to keep us scared enough to take it seriously but not so drastic as to spark mass panic. I also believe that corona isn't going to just disappear, up to half of us will get it, most of us will recover as we do a mild case of any virus, but that it will be easier if it peaks in the warmer weather, and after the flu season has finished.

In the next few weeks, either world travel will be severely curtailed, or corona will be so ubiquitous that it won't make any difference and travel will resume as in normal times.

In light of all this, I too am taking some precautions. I don't fear us catching corona because we are not in the vulnerable age-group nor do we have co-morbid medical conditions. However, I do fear getting it and being responsible for passing it on to people who are vulnerable. To glibly say, "wash your hands and carry on," is, imo, ignoring the very real fears of those who have compromised immunity or children with chronic illnesses. For them it is a terrifying situation.

1. Everyone, including us, who enters our apartment has to wash their hands with soap before touching anything. I'm trying not to touch my face when out but it's surprising how many times one does it without thinking.

2. We are not shaking hands, hugging or kissing even our closest friends.

3. If you were in contact with someone who tests positive to the virus, you will immediately be under enforced quarantine. It makes sense to stock up with at least two weeks of non-perishable food and toiletries. (Btw, shortages in the shops are not due to supplies running out, they are because the supply chain isn't fast enough to respond to immediate demand. They make enough toilet paper for months in advance - it just has to reach the shops. And when this is over, we'll all have enough to withstand any catching up period.)

4. We are trying to eat as healthy a diet as possible with lots of fruit and vegetables. My view is the healthier you start, the healthier you'll stay.

5. We're not making any decisions about future travel plans until the last possible moment. And then we'll weigh up all the available information. (Obviously this may be decided for us.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Corona Votes - Israel Elections

Yesterday was the third general election in Israel in 11 months. The problem is that we keep getting a tie and neither of the two big parties are able to form a majority coalition of 61 seats in the Knesset. 

In a nutshell, the big left of centre party, Blue White headed by Benny Gantz, are willing to form a unity government with the big right of centre party, Likud, but not with Binyamin Netanyahu (Bibi) as its leader. If Bibi were to step back the unity government would be free of the extreme right and the extreme religious parties and a lot of people would be very happy. And a lot of people would be very unhappy.

A relatively small party in the middle, headed by Avigdor Leiberman, could go either way as he's right wing but religiously secular. His main condition is that he also won't work with Bibi. He's the Kingmaker. Whichever side he chooses will get their 61 seat majority. 

One good thing that came out of this election is that many of the very small, theme-park, parties didn't bother, or couldn't afford, to go a third round and many of the smaller parties joined together. For example, the Arab parties all clubbed together and will be the third strongest party in the Knesset. Usually there are a few parties that get one, two or three, possibly five seats and the left wing has to negotiate with all of them separately, or not bother with some of them as they're not needed. Now they have proper strength in numbers and real clout. 

The woman I voted for last time, Orli Levi, didn't pass the threshold with enough votes for her social justice party. This time she teamed up with other left-wing parties and she will be in the Knesset. I'm pleased she'll be in because although I wanted to vote for her again. I couldn't bring myself to vote for one of her team mates. So the merging parties thing could go either way. Otoh, she was never totally committed to her team so she could be the defector in a Likud government - which would be a good thing. As she cannot change the overall leadership, she could at least be in the governement. 

It's 08.30 on Tuesday morning. Exit polls are predicting Blue White to get 33 seats while Likud is expected to get 37. However, the left wing block is still bigger and they could form a government with 62 seats to Likud's 59. But if Likud do get 59 they could poach a couple of people form other parties by offering the defectors a good deal. And, imo, this is what will happen. Of course the exit polls are not the results. They are estimates. The final results will only be in on Thursday morning and here's why.

We don't have postal or proxy votes for ordinary citizens. Only diplomats, other emissaries, and the on-duty military are allowed to vote away from home. For everyone else, either you're here or you're not. They only count these votes if they will make a difference so they don't start until all the other votes are in. 

This year we had special polling stations set up around the country for the 5,700 voters who registered as being in quarantine for the corona virus. These stations were outdoors (luckily the weather was good but there were tents in case of rain), the volunteers all wore hazmat suits, and the voters were told to come wearing masks and surgical gloves.

Last night the vote counters were refusing to count the corona votes but this morning Mada (Magen David Adom - The Red Star of David - our Red Cross) have agreed to count them. (Update at noon, the corona votes are being counted by senior election officials in hazmat suits in a tent.)

In other election news, general election day is a national holiday. In a country without Sundays (kids are in school 6 days/week although adults work only 5 days) and where half the country doesn't travel on Shabbat (Saturday) because of the Jewish sabbath, it is always a day to look forward to, to go out to nature parks or the beach, and to shop. 

In Jerusalem there was free ice-cream at a number of ice-cream parlours if you produced a receipt showing you spent more than 20 shekels shopping. Of course they ran out of the free ice-cream quite quickly but you could still buy some as you're already here. No one was surprised. 

The election campaign has been nasty and even Likud insiders said that their party was held together by hate. President Reuven Rivlin said he was ashamed that it had come to a third election because no one was prepared to work together. Then a friend wrote on facebook that outside her polling station one of the extremely right wing volunteers couldn't get his poster up so the left-wing volunteer helped him. Politics is politics but at the end of the day, Israel is more of a family than a nation.

P.S. And a 71% voluntary turnout isn't bad either.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Oh You'll Never Get To Heaven

Don't pick the flowers
Remember that old camp fire/road trip song? Oh you'll never get to heaven, in an old Ford car, coz an old Ford car, won't go that far (repeat at speed), I ain't gonna grieve my Lord (x3), no more.

Other famous verses, in no particular order, included a Platex bra, a baked bean tin, a ping pong ball, roller skates, a jumbo jet, and a boy scout's knee. And the grande finale... if you get there before I do, just bore a hole and pull me through. Remember? Warning: don't google it, it's too sad. But even so, I admit that we sang it all across Europe more than once.

All this to introduce the concept of getting to Heaven because we watched the series, The Good Place on Netflix. Without giving the whole story away, a group of people find themselves on the way to The Bad Place (Hell) and they don't feel like they deserve to be there. So they try to get into the The Good Place (Heaven).

It all works on a point system. Throughout your life you get points for good deeds and are deducted points for bad behaviour. Try as they might, our group can't get a hold on how the point system works as so many good people are not making into The Good Place. It turns out that no one has got into The Good Place in over 200 years.

Eventually someone examines the files and finds out that in 1700 Tommy picked some flowers for his mother on his way home from work. He got 100 points. In 2015, Jonny brings his mother a bunch a flowers and is deducted 5000 points. What's going on here?

Jonny's flowers came from another country and used up an enormous amount of fossil fuel to get to the shop, they were grown using destructive pesticides which ruined the soil and poisoned surrounding crops, they came wrapped in plastic, he ordered them using his cheap mobile phone which had been made in a factory in China where the workers are exploited, etc... etc...

The whole series is quite good although it does get a bit tedious towards the middle. However, I found this little nugget of a scene fascinating. A brilliant observation that a simple good deed 300 years ago is now a complicated procedure affecting multitudes of people. There are so many factors and variables that it's almost impossible to do a good deed without it originating in sin.

Make your friend a cup of coffee - where did that coffee come from? Milk and sugar - where did the sugar come from and are you feeding her sugar addiction? What about the poor calves and cows who are brutally separated? What about the destructive methane gas from cattle? Give someone a ride - cars are polluting the air and using up fossil fuel. Buy a gift - what's it made of and were did it come from? Call for a chat - who made your mobile phone, in what factory, under what conditions? You can't win.

By the way, I know what you're thinking and though this may be possible in other countries, in Israel it's forbidden to pick wild flowers. We're doomed.