By Sara Sless
I tried—I really did—to find something to write about that has nothing to do with COVID-19. It’s a bit like trying to have a Zoom call that doesn’t include someone calling out: “You’re on mute; unmute yourself!”
Not surprisingly, I failed.
So, indulge me, embrace COVID-19 (socially distanced, of course), and using all our senses, let me share with you a glimpse of what is going on in this tiny, special place called Israel.
Sight: Like many of you, we Israelis are probably watching way too much television. However, the pandemic has afforded us an opportunity to watch some wonderful programming, including the Israeli thriller Tehran. We also have witnessed some creative ways to bring music, including collaborations, into our homes. In this music video, watch the sweet sounds that happened when Keren Peles, one of Israel’s most popular singer-songwriters, invited 24 female Israeli musicians to join her in singing “Bat li Pitom,” which includes these beautiful lyrics in English.
Sound: With less traffic, we are more aware of the sounds of nature, including the birds around us. Did you know that in 2008, Israelis chose the country’s first national bird in a competition held by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel? A total of 155,000 votes were cast and the winner, with 35% of the total, was the hoopoe or duchipat as it’s known in Hebrew. As lovely as it is to hear birdsongs, the sound of others’ voices is an important way to feel connected at this time of isolation. With WhatsApp, Zoom, and FaceTime, connecting has never been easier, so pick up the phone to check in with a long-lost friend or relative.
Taste: Although Israelis might not be making banana bread or sourdough as our friends in North America are doing, we, too, headed to the kitchen—especially during our first lockdown in April. A study conducted at the Hebrew University showed that 55% of Israelis gained weight during the first lockdown. Since then, many have returned to a more stringent diet and exercise routine, but everyone craves comfort food during these times. These tahini cookies are the perfect combination of comfort and Israeli flavor—and they are super easy, too. Give them a try the next time you head to the kitchen.
Touch: These months of lockdown have been especially hard for Israelis, who love to gather together—to touch and hug, to hike and eat, to argue and laugh and embrace. To us, “social distancing” is an oxymoron, and our sense of touch has been one of the toughest to lose in this time of the pandemic. What’s more, tourism brings millions of people (and billions of shekels) to our economy each year, and with the industry shut down completely, we haven’t been able to feel your touch or let our country touch you.
Smell: One of our most powerful senses, smell, ironically, also is one of the senses that is lost, hopefully temporarily, by a majority of COVID-19 patients. Israel’s scientific community is working to detect COVID-19 in its earliest stages, and Israeli innovation is leading the way. NanoScent, a biotech start-up, has developed scent recognition technology that could provide a fast and cheap solution for mass screening. SmellTracker an online tool that allows people to monitor their own sense of smell to detect early signs of the virus was developed by a collaboration of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
Resilience: Perhaps more than any other, it is our sense of resilience that is getting us through this tough time. We Israelis, having dealt for decades with waves of terrorism, wars, and threats to our existence, have long been recognized for our resilience and have professionals, including Israeli psychologist Mooli Lahad, founder of The Community Stress Prevention Centre and a leading expert on coping with disasters to help us out. No matter where we live or who may be at our disposal, each of us has to search deep within ourselves to discover the core of our resilience. How are we coping with this scary pandemic? How are we surviving the economic challenges? How are we dealing with feelings of isolation and what can seem like a whole new world order?
In 1946, Victor Frankl published “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he recounted his experiences in concentration camps during World War II and claimed that the meaning in his life gave him the will to survive. His theories may resonate with us, encouraging us to explore our sense of worth and purpose as part of our coping mechanism. Today we also have instantaneous theories on YouTube and Facebook, full of suggestions to increase our resilience by doing whatever it takes to get us to smile—listening to music, exercising, calling friends, dancing, laughing, walking in nature or anything else to bring us relief.
My blessing to you is that you find strength and resilience to cope with this pandemic, using all your senses to enjoy what brings you the greatest joy and fulfillment during this time. L’hitraot—till we meet again.
Sara Sless is assistant director at JCC Association of North America’s Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.