Meet the Israelis Finding a Silver Lining in the Coronavirus Isolation

Most people may have been forced to stop going to work due to the coronavirus pandemic, but some aren’t idle: These Israelis have found an upside and insight from the abrupt change in routine

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Personal trainer Grace Sherman. Just weeks ago, Sherman would regularly buy ready meals to avoid cooking and even new clothes to avoid doing laundry.
Personal trainer Grace Sherman. Just weeks ago, before the coronavirus pandemic, Sherman would regularly buy ready meals to avoid cooking and new clothes to avoid doing laundry.Credit: Rami Shllush
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Noa Shpigel
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Noa Shpigel

Every morning for weeks Hadas Dror-Etzion has dressed, put on makeup and embarked on a journey of a few steps that ends at her parents’ home, next door in Ramat Yishai, in the Jezreel Valley. There she sits in an otherwise empty room and starts her new daily routine.

Dror-Etzion was recently furloughed, as was everyone else at the company for which she works. To contend with the sudden vacuum in her life, she began conducting and filming interviews with life coaches and the like who give tips on coping with the changes imposed by the coronavirus pandemic: How to stay sane in the familial pressure cooker; how to eat properly; how to deal with the new uncertainty and so on. She posts the interviews on her Facebook page.

“When the lockdown began, I thought about what I could do so I didn’t go mad,” says Dror-Etzion, a vice president for business development at Gevim Group, which specializes in mediation and conflict management. “Thanks to this project, I make up my face and get dressed in the morning. It keeps me in an active work routine. It saves me mentally while helping people as well.”

Her interview subjects, who like her work for Gevim Group, might feel the same way, since the taped conversations are being done on a voluntary basis. Dror-Etzion’s life partner, a carpenter, stays at home with their three children, allowing her to maintain an office-like routine. “I speak with people on the phone and via the computer, and I have the illusion of a workday,” she says.

Hadas Dror-Etzion: 'It keeps me in an active work routine. It saves me mentally while helping people as well'

Hadas Dror-Etzion.Credit: Rami Shllush

The project seems like an obvious step for Dror-Etzion, a self-proclaimed “crazy workaholic” who frequently remained overnight in the Tel Aviv area, where Gevim is based. “This lockdown is so unnatural for me,” she says. Yet at the end of each day she has some leisure time, which she uses to read books (“something I hadn’t done for years,” she admits) and to cook. Previously, before the coronavirus pandemic closed the schools and her workplace, they’d get up in the morning “and immediately go into shift-management mode: Get the kids dressed, make sandwiches. Suddenly we can ease into waking up, lie in bed with the youngest. Who has moments like these on a daily basis?”

Dror-Etzion has no illusions about the day after the pandemic eases. “Routine is stronger than all of us,” she says, admitting that she is convinced that she’ll quickly return to her old, jam-packed routine. “Before, I knew nothing about technology,” she says. Now she conducts videoconferences using Zoom, schedules Facebook posts and knows how to send large files by email. “For me it’s an enormous gift. It’s not in my nature, and I dealt with it well,” she explains.

Still, she hopes the world of work in Israel will change in the wake of the crisis, if only a little. “People suddenly realize that they don’t have to drive for three hours in traffic if it’s possible to meet by videoconference,” she says. “It’s convenient, economical and effective. I hope this amazing advance won’t be stopped. There will be fewer traffic jams, people can work from home more.”

Suddenly in virtual space

Plenty of other Israelis have carved out a place for themselves in the virtual world after finding their movement in real life curtailed as a result of the coronavirus. Guy Adania, a practitioner and teacher of traditional Chinese medicine from Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim, found himself unemployed when his clinic was forced to close because of the pandemic, not being deemed an essential business.

“It isn’t only about the loss of livelihood,” Adania says. “As caregivers, we’re accustomed to supporting people, and suddenly that’s gone.”

These feeling led him to reconsider his options, and a few weeks ago he began giving enrichment lectures in his field to other practitioners. “I don’t presume to be some spiritual coach in optimism, but it’s clear that we’re all in a time of great change,” he says. “I’m connecting now to the digital world, which my children have been a part of for years.”

Like Dror-Etzion, Adania is certain that his new digital skills will continue to serve him after the coronavirus crisis end. “Thanks to digital tools, there are fewer boundaries of space and time, and new opportunities are opening up to everyone,” he says.

Grace Sherman: 'Maybe it’s not necessary to earn so much, maybe it’s possible to live more'

Grace Sherman. 'I wanted to cut back on my hours and couldn’t do it.'Credit: rami shllush

And then there are people who aren’t trying to reshape their routines, but who have found meaning in the new state of affairs. Grace Sherman is a personal trainer from Nahalal, whose pre-pandemic daily schedule was particularly hectic. “At my peak, I’m like a bulldozer, I don’t say ‘no’ to any training session and I also train myself,” she says. “I go to sleep at 9 P.M. so that I can wake up early, it’s an insane race.”

Just weeks ago, Sherman would regularly buy ready meals to avoid cooking and even new clothes to avoid doing laundry, in order to devote more time to work. “I wanted to cut back on my hours and couldn’t do it. I had a constant feeling of ‘Hey, you have to keep going,” she says of the nearly impossible model she created for herself. But the coronavirus crisis forced her to slam the brakes, and suddenly she saw an upside to it. “It hit me on the first evening: I don’t have to go to sleep at nine because I don’t have to get up at five in order to be in Haifa at seven for a session,” she says. Sherman found herself spending quality time with her 5-year-old son, Mikey. The money she saved on gas and tolls is a bonus. “I’m cooking again, and there’s healthy food, and I’m not buying 5,000 cups of coffee a day,” she says. “I suddenly realized that what I did in my routine was to feed that demon. You’re a kind of slave to yourself.”

Sherman liked the sharp switch so much that she doesn’t think she will resume her former way of life, even after the crisis passes. “I won’t say yes to every session and to every client. I’ll find more time for surfing,” she says. “Money was never a big deal to me, but I did measure my success by my income. Maybe it’s not necessary to earn so much, maybe it’s possible to live more.”

Fickle fortunes

Around two weeks ago, Danielle Ariel of Jerusalem gave birth to her first child, a girl named Mila. Her happy anticipation was mixed with worry. “When we planned the birth, I was very afraid that I’d have to remain at home with the baby for weeks immediately after the birth,” she recalls. The best she had hoped for was that her partner, Tzafrir, might return from work at 4 P.M., much earlier than usual.

But when the coronavirus crisis emerged in Israel, the urban planning office employing Tzafrir sent everybody home. “I got him for the maternity leave,” Ariel says. “It’s true that he’s on Zoom and I’m nursing, but he’s with me. Friends told me before I gave birth that it took months for their partners to bond with their babies, because they weren’t around a lot. Tzafrir is with me all the time, and we take care of the baby equally.”

Danielle Ariel: 'I believe employers will realize there’s no way back. See, it is possible to work from home. It’s possible'

Danielle and Tzafrir Ariel with their newborn daughter Mila.Credit: Moti Milrod

She is also optimistic about the future and the changes the coronavirus pandemic has brought about. “I believe employers will realize there’s no way back. See, it is possible to work from home. It’s possible,” she says.

And what about those people who simply lucked out? Michal Birnbaum, an Israeli actress who lives in New York and is currently in Israel, admits that for her, the timing of the crisis was excellent. She acts in the hit Netflix series “Unorthodox,” which she says is “excellent in any case, but I think the coronavirus [crisis] gave it a ‘push.’”

Actress Michal Birnbaum, who acts in the hit Netflix series 'Unorthodox': 'I think the coronavirus [crisis] gave it a ‘push'

Michal BirnbaumCredit: Moti Milrod

Luck, however, is a fickle beast. The global film and theater industries are on hold and her phone isn’t ringing off the hook, but Birnbaum is taking advantage of the time to plan for the future. Last year she wrote, co-produced and appeared in a short feature called “Division Ave,” about the Hasidic community in Brooklyn and the employment of immigrant women in the United States illegally to clean their homes for Passover. And again on the upside, the pandemic caused the cancellation of festivals where the film was scheduled for screening — but now it’s available for streaming, for free.

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