In Israel Too, the Virus Breaks Down Society, Community and the Most Basic Norms

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Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump storming the Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021.
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump storming the Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021.Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Above all, the crazy images from Capitol Hill this week are being ascribed, for good reason, to the conduct and legacy of the outgoing president who apparently suffers from disorders that only someone with a psychology background could define. Donald Trump’s presidency will be remembered as an inconceivable mishap, a noisy and continuous disruption, a bleak chapter in history whose causes will be the subject of myriad historical and cultural studies.

It’s impossible to come to any serious conclusion when playing “What would have happened if?” It’s impossible to know if these images would have been possible in a more “normal” age without a bizarre pandemic that struck humanity out of nowhere and kept it gripped in a war of attrition.

Still, it’s possible and apparently necessary to place these pictures from Washington in the album of the terrible year of the coronavirus, whose greatest damage – with the exception of the lives it continues to claim – has been the destruction of the community and society. And in the wake of that, we’ve suffered the unbearable weakening of the individual.

Events like what just happened in Washington – an ecstatically violent rebellion against order and the most basic consensus-based rules, and the clear crossing of the bounds of sanity – are displays at the extreme. But day in and day out, countless less dramatic scenes of disintegration are taking place – the disintegration of the social structures that give people their sensitivity and inspiration.

The outside is abandoned. Flocks are scattering. Power is flowing to the few who rule the many – the coronavirus age is a paradise of dictators or those with a lust for power. People who just want to make a living, meet with friends or just breathe some fresh air are harassed by the police. People are afraid of losing their jobs. People are afraid of freely expressing their opinions, perhaps the most basic expression of freedom, “because this is a dangerous time.”

There is no conversation, no togetherness, no cultural life. There is fear. Many people live with a sense that they are under attack – a feeling connected to reality, as a virus is indeed endangering their health and putting their livelihoods at risk. But this feeling is exacerbated by what’s happening in people’s inner worlds, in the absence of an external world to moderate it.

All this makes it easier to understand the desperate need for sharp divisions, for clear categorization. The ultra-Orthodox are to blame. The protesters are anarchists. The Democrats in the United States are election stealers or pedophiles. We all have our own demon, and that demon has a name, a face or an identity and must be deemed the guilty party in this insulting and infuriating situation. The division into good guys and bad guys is an almost desperate attempt to impose some order on the chaos. To determine cause and effect.

As we enter a full lockdown for the third time, Israelis are fairly up to speed and know more or less what to do, what to buy, how to maneuver somehow between the strain of work and caring for small children, how to find some way to lighten the terrible loneliness, the separation from children and grandchildren. They even know that they’ll manage to steal a few moments of joy with their partners or  families, or that they’ll realize at some unremarkable moment that life goes on, despite it all.

Fortunately, Israel hasn’t endured the kind of terrible trauma visited upon northern Italy, New York and Britain, with deaths mounting at an incredible pace and one funeral after another – traumas that will take years, possibly a generation, to process and overcome. This time, we also have the vaccination campaign going on – a flickering light offering some hope that we’ll get through this, that the situation will improve, that a return to a fuller and happier life is attainable.

Still, thinking about the tightening of the lockdown is suffocating and depressing because it reminds us of and perpetuates the disintegration and its dangers, the loss it’s causing. May it be the last lockdown.

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