Blog: What's Your Lockdown Time Capsule?

As if the people of Hiroshima had decided to sweep up the atomic rubble and pretend that nothing had happened, it was jarring to see how quickly corona’s introspection dissipates

S

tepping into the office last Monday morning after ten weeks of lockdown gave me the bizarre feeling of entering a time capsule.

Like something out of polar explorer Captain Scott’s hut in Antarctica, preserved just as he’d left it on his doomed expedition a century ago, lay my pre-corona life.

The pens, the magazines and printed drafts of articles were still in disarray, preserved under a layer of dust that the cleaning staff had left in place in an abundance of corona-inspired caution.

It took a while to process the disturbing contrast of the scene. Outside, Israel was busy getting back to normal. The roads were full again, people were shopping, yeshivos reopening, politics was back in the headlines and life – with the addition of some social distancing – was moving on. But my desk was evidence that something extraordinary had just taken place.

“Did that just happen?” I thought to myself. “Did the entire world shut down for two months, practically hanging a “Closed for Business” sign across the globe – and now we’re just picking up where we left off?”

“Coronavirus changes everything” said CNN on March 15th, and that was echoed in the spiritual realm at the same time with an outpouring of writing, videos and conversations in the religious world on the clear demonstration of Hashem’s control. We were going to dance into shul again when we could once again enter; weddings would be transformed; schools would never be the same again.

But as if the people of Hiroshima had collectively decided to sweep up the atomic rubble and pretend that nothing much had happened, it was jarring to see how quickly introspection dissipates as normal life resumes.

Like a racing car that brakes early going into a corner to accelerate quickly away, Israel shut down faster than America and Europe, and is weeks ahead in resuming normal life. But even though they’ve been harder hit by tragedy, the same thing will happen in New York and London – normal life, quite incredibly, will resume. The soul-searching that was everywhere when the COVID-19 blitzkrieg struck, will end.

What is there to do about this, to preserve some of that inspiration?

Rav Elimelech Kornfeld of Ramat Beit Shemesh told me over Shabbos that the same thing happened in the Gulf War. As the whole country cowered in sealed rooms expecting Saddam’s chemical weapons to rain death, there was a feeling of closeness to Hashem, as if anything was spiritually possible. “But a week after the war ended,” he said, “people went back to their regular lives.”

His advice was to take a pen and simply write down what we’ve gone through, to preserve an echo of the most unusual time the world has experienced in decades.

So as my contribution to that effort, here are a few stark facts worth preserving.

On Pesach 2020, shuls worldwide were closed for the first time since Yetzias Mitzrayim, and not one person was in a hotel; we were just happy to be home.

Going to buy milk felt like a run through a war zone, and we cut our hair at home so that the barber wouldn’t infect us.

In neighborhoods from Borough Park to Golders Green, emergency services were overwhelmed. Hospitals wouldn’t let children in to be with their dying parents, and roshei yeshiva were buried just by the Chevra Kadisha.

We davened on balconies or alone, and older people ventured out, like night-creatures, only after dark.

People with stable professions like dentists or therapists suddenly needed help feeding their families.

Wealthy families married off their children in their gardens, and Chol Hamoed outings meant a walk down the road.

We lived with a heightened sense of Hashem’s control, and of the correct priorities in life.

A week has passed since I was struck by the incongruity of my dusty desk, and the imprint of the corona emergency is fading. For those who were fortunate to emerge untouched, it’s natural to forget.

But if you’re still emerging from lockdown, take the time to write a time capsule of your own, because corona’s clarity is worth preserving.

**You can submit your feedback in the space provided at the end of this post. 
About the Blog
As a writer, I find miles of any sort – air, bus, or foot – generate creativity. Meeting people and mixing with the world is good for column inches.
But this strange new world of coronavirus lockdown, with its disquiet and hardship, has also brought out an outpouring of Emunah, creativity and humor to cope with sudden crisis.
It’s also brought out a new spirit of introspection, obvious well beyond the hallowed walls of Mishpacha.
So when the call came from on editorial high to do some writing for this site, I asked for leeway to go beyond my normal journalistic beat. No one needs more data on Covid-19, so I’d like to “think different”, to quote the old Apple slogan.
If you log on here, expect some hashkafically-flavored musings on the current situation, attempts at forward thinking, leavened with some forays into the news side of things.
I’d really like to hear your feedback as well. So to quote Yechezkel, the Jerusalem makolet owner mythologized by yours truly, “mi sheba, Baruch haba.”

 

Gedalia Guttentag |
April 26, 2020


Having learned for more than a decade in the Mir yeshiva, and graduated from the Ner L’Elef outreach training program, Gedalia Guttentag co-founded Inspired Tel Aviv, a kiruv center serving international olim to Israel’s cultural capital, where he and his wife teach. In addition, he is currently completing his semicha.

Gedalia writes the Eye on Europe and Knesset Channel columns, and is a regular feature contributor.

+ see all contributor's work