While most Israelis are staying indoors and practicing social distancing, a group on the margins of the hippie community has its own solution: hugs. For over a week now at an ecological farm in the north, cuddles and other activities are flouting the anti-coronavirus orders.
“Isolation is passé! Come to a communal isolation!” the organizers say on Facebook. At night the participants sleep in a tribal bed, while during the day they grow vegetables and take the occasional dip in a nearby spring.
Events include acroyoga – which combines yoga with acrobatics – sharing activities and pajama parties. Between 20 and 30 people are there at the moment, most of them young, but a few mothers with children have trickled in.
The organizers expect more refugees to slip the lockdown imposed on the rest of the country.
“I believe in a community vision with a dense community. That’s what I want in life,” one of the organizers says.
“We envisioned an event that combines ecological farming with fun, and oranges with dipping in the spring – with or without clothes. Then they started talking about corona-related restrictions, so we said, damn, people won’t come here. But why not? This might actually draw people.”
Don’t you feel you’re endangering yourself and the others who come here?
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“Corona is a serious type of flu. The hysteria is overblown related to the risk a young person has of getting it. So I’ll have the symptoms of a serious flu. Okay.”
Do you take precautions like using hand sanitizer?
Has anyone warned you?
“Somebody wrote that she believed this gathering was illegal, that we’d be dispersed or fined. But everybody who comes here shares our views. Whenever somebody comes up to me, I think they may not want to shake hands, so I wait.
“But everybody who comes here gives everybody else a hug. They all say they’re fleeing the hysteria and that it’s good that there’s one sane place where people aren’t afraid to touch each other. We’re an island of sanity.”
Are you worried about the authorities?
“At one point, there were these people who came here, people with the authority to break this place up, but it wasn’t clear what the visit was about. They smiled, shook hands with us, and we’re still here.”
Do your parents know?
“My mother helped me get this place ready, but she’s 60 and is worried about getting infected, so she didn’t shake anybody’s hand. The oldest people here are around 40.”
So is this a protest against the lockdown?
“It’s not a protest, it’s a refuge for anyone who doesn’t want to be part of the current national hysteria. I tell everyone, “welcome to the refugee camp.” There's one big mattress for everyone, some shade, and we’re ready for the arrival of many others.”
Another partner in organizing the event says that for him, public health can be achieved with a little sun, good food, loving and being loved.
“Because of the coronavirus, markets are closed, so it’s difficult to buy fruit and vegetables,” he says. “But they’re leaving the supermarkets open so people can buy junk food, as if that were more essential than bananas.”
But if one of you gets the coronavirus, you’ll all get infected.
“We’ll all get it eventually anyway. The question is how you deal with it. Nearly all the victims have underlying illnesses. This happens because people smoke and eat industrial poison. Plus they don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, and that’s what we’re getting here. This event isn’t against the establishment, it’s meant to bolster our immune systems.”
You’re claiming that you’re making a healthy move.
“Yes. If the health system supported people’s health instead of protecting industry, it would ban Coca-Cola, for example.”
How many people do you plan to host?
“It’s hard to quote a number. The area is large and you can sleep in the fields surrounding us. People are saying that things are crazy in the center of the country; the ones arriving are very tense, but they quickly unwind. You can see the tension on their faces dissolve.”
Actually, this gathering in the north wasn’t the only hippie hug-fest to launch since the coronavirus crisis began. On March 12, Ayala (not her real name) from Tel Aviv organized a “cuddle-therapy event, a friendly meeting.” Planned months in advance, it was attended by maybe 10 people.
The event had a disc jockey and included a vegan meal. And Ayala has changed her mind in the meantime: She now supports the lockdown.
“There was some talk of corona but it seemed like a stupid joke at first,” she says. “My 88-year-old grandfather said that at his age it’s okay to die. My apartment mate returned from Europe and was in isolation, but I thought that if the Health Ministry allowed someone in quarantine to live in a shared apartment, the whole idea of a corona risk was ludicrous.”
Masses of people have already died.
“I didn’t understand what was happening. I wrote on Facebook: Let’s submit to corona and come out clean. When I shared my idea of a hug-fest somebody wrote me: ‘Good God, haven’t you heard about corona?” I wrote back that hugs bolster the immune system, but then people explained that the issue was the collapse of the health system.
“I read some articles and that made me change my mind, so ... I haven’t gone out for two weeks since then, other than going shopping twice. And it’s been one of the best periods of my life. I do whatever I feel like. I watch TV series, I knit. All judgmental voices have fallen silent; it’s total freedom.”
Ayala says the cuddling was to support friends, it was devoid of a sexual element. She’s proud that the evening of cuddling brought together a couple who went home together. (“It’s hard for them now with the lockdown.”)
Our conversation moved on to the conspiracy theory that links the coronavirus to 5G mobile phones. Ayala agrees with this theory but explains that there’s a difference between the hippie community and the conspiracy theorists.
“Hippies see the situation as a gift from Creation,” she says. “After shopping I went to the beach, looked at the sea and said: ‘You’re so wise, I trust you 100 percent.’”