Daniel Jacob, a tour guide from the West Bank settlement of Ein Prat, was one of the first economic victims of the coronavirus crisis.
“On March 15 the gates closed and with them my business,” says Jacob, who had a thriving tourism business and two employees. In the first few weeks he was in shock but then realized that tourism wasn’t about to revive in the short term.
“It’s not like war, after which tourism comes back to life,” he says. “The situation in the United States and Europe is also bad, so nobody’s going to fly anytime soon.”
Falling back on his military background, he started working as a security guard around Ein Prat, which is near Jerusalem. “It’s not what I wanted, not what I thought I’d be,” he says.
“But all you can do is go with the flow. Now I make in shekels what I used to make in dollars. But that’s life.”
His family has slashed expenses. “We froze pensions, insurance, the mortgage,” he says. “We did everything we could to reduce our monthly expenses.”
Jacob also sees advantages in the new abnormal. During the good times he would travel around the country and sleep away from home. Now he has much more time, which he uses to help his wife, a landscape architect.
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He says many of his colleagues haven’t accepted the new situation. “Some people try to be original and do tours on Zoom. Others have nothing to do,” he says.
Jacob chose to move on until tourism resumes. “I could protest outside the Tourism Ministry and get riled up,” he says. “But what good would that do? I have to make some money.”
It’s not that he isn’t angry. “I’ve paid national insurance and taxes all these years, but just when you need the state’s help, nobody is listening,” he says. “I’m used to boasting to tourists about our country, telling them about the human variety we have here. Suddenly the country you bragged about lets you down.”
Still, he insists on remaining positive. “We’ll get through this,” he says. “My family and I are in the same boat and we’re optimistic.”
A far cry from art school
Dean Lanner of Tel Aviv has also done a rethink; every day at 2 P.M. he heads to his new job at a supermarket. He started working there after sitting at home for weeks, ever since the pub he worked at closed its doors early on in the pandemic.
He looked for work in a supermarket “because I knew this was one place that wouldn’t close during a lockdown,” he says. “I said to myself: The world is on fire; this is the time to somehow save myself.”
The next day he got an interview and the following day he started life as a cashier.
Lanner, an artist who graduated from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design about a year ago, didn’t plan to live on art alone. “I had fantasies as a student, but they’ve gone,” he says. “I didn’t feel that working freelance as an artist was something I could count on for a rainy day. I was looking for a steady job.”
So he worked in a pub and continued drawing, selling prints and holding small exhibitions. He was planning to start M.A. art studies in Germany, but the coronavirus outbreak put an end to that.
At the supermarket, Lanner bumps into his share of acquaintances. “I get a lot of pitying looks; people feel bad about my situation,” he says. “I didn’t know how to handle it at first,” he says.
But now that the crisis has deepened and the end of the second surge is nowhere in sight, he feels that the attitudes toward him are changing.
“I know people who work in various fields, some in ‘serious’ work and others who are artists, but they’re sitting at home now without work,” Lanner says. “They’ve suddenly realized that it’s not going to be two weeks without work but months. Now it’s clear to everybody that you have to do whatever you can to survive.”
Plus, his job still has its moments. “I meet people, I don’t sit at home frustrated,” he says, adding that his encounters with hundreds of people each shift let him feel the local pulse. “I see what mood people are in, I understand what’s going on in the world,” he says.
He enjoys the human touch, even if it lasts only a minute or two, like the “quick chitchat of ‘how are you doing’ – and occasionally someone who says how he’s really doing when I don’t expect it.
“As an artist who sketches people and relationships, it enriches my work. I try to notice how the eyes of an irritable person look, how people react when they see someone famous in the supermarket. I’m a fly on the wall for five minutes in people’s lives.”
Lanner doesn’t rule out staying at the supermarket once the crisis is over. “I’ve become immune to professional prestige. Why shouldn’t I be a cashier for the rest of my life? Before the coronavirus it wasn’t an option. Now I say, why not? There’s no contradiction between this work and wanting to be a good artist.”
Don’t forget your mantra
Yinon Bukovza of Kibbutz Mishmarot near Haifa also worked in a supermarket at the beginning of the pandemic. Before that he lived in the south; in recent years he worked in informal education. He moved to a new home in Ramat Gan about two weeks before the lockdown and started working at a preschool. When the schools and preschools closed down he still believed the crisis would be fleeting.
“I said to myself like a mantra, ‘In a week the corona will be gone and I’ll be back at the preschool,’” he says. But then he realized he had to find another source of income. “It wasn’t easy putting away my ego.”
The first days at work weren’t easy. “At the supermarket the atmosphere is technical,” Bukovza says. “You have to work fast and it’s not always easy with the bosses; they deduct pay for break time and you can’t get up and make coffee whenever you like.”
Overall, the adjustment was hard. “There’s a lot of shouting – among customers and between customers and employees. It was hard for me to deal with customers’ impatience and condescending attitude,” he says.
At first he didn’t tell acquaintances and friends about his new job, so it was no fun encountering a familiar face among the shoppers.
“But I worked on myself,” Bukovza says. “Slowly I changed my approach and now I realize that I was learning a lesson in modesty and humility. I feel it has matured me.”
When the schools reopened he found work at a preschool and left the supermarket. “If there’s no choice I’ll go back to work in the supermarket,” he says.
Guy Hamoy is also fluctuating between the need to make a living and salvaging his business as a photographer. Recently he has been working with his father, an electrician, almost every day and devoting the little time left over to photography.
This isn’t the first time Hamoy has worked with his father. About two years ago a traffic accident kept him out of work for nearly a year. But he had a hard time reviving his photography business, so he sometimes joined his electrician dad on the job.
About a year ago he resumed his photography work and had at least one wedding a week. He was also asked to photograph business events and all kinds of celebrations, but then came the coronavirus.
Recently, when the restrictions were lifted after the first wave, he thought life was returning to normal. “This week I was supposed to take photos at five weddings of couples who had postponed the events due to the first wave,” Hamoy says. “I hadn’t had such a busy week for a long time.”
But then the restrictions were imposed again and the cancellations came one after another. “Everybody said ‘we’ll talk, we’ll set another date,’ but they’re afraid to commit to a day.”
A week ago he still had a chance to take pictures at a wedding that was limited to 250 people. Then everything shut down.
Hamoy says the electrician work “pays the rent, and that’s it.” Otherwise, he’s living on his savings. He feels he's doing reasonably well, because he doesn’t have employees who depend on him.
“My friends are in the same situation, there are thousands like me,” he says, adding that he doesn’t expect events to be scheduled in the near future.
“We’ll only make money again next March. Anyone who postpones their wedding now won’t put it off to the winter but will wait for the spring. Before that we won’t go back to photographing events – if any of us returns to this profession at all.”