Opinion

Today It's an Empty Park, but What Comes 'After' the Coronavirus?

A law enforcement vehicle can be seen at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2020.
Tomer Appelbaum

The sound could be heard every morning when the sun came up: the notes of a saxophone wafting through the tangle of oleander and blooming yellow acacia flowers, floating over the jogging and bike paths on the opposite bank of the stream. Sometimes jazz improvisations, sometimes familiar tunes, sometimes random blasts of sound coming from the western bank of the Ayalon near where it empties into the Yarkon. This combination of dawning sun, dissipating morning mists, dewdrops on the grass, eucalyptus grove, masses of chrysanthemums and the music was about as close as it gets to divine revelation. Sun standing still in Givon and saxophone in Nahal Ayalon.

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The lavender is also blooming now in soft purple and spreading its fragrance (or is that the lupine?), adding to the intoxication of the senses in the park in the morning. Only the riddle of the mysterious music stuck out: Who is playing there in the morning? How many morning joggers and cyclists have noticed the music? Maybe the music is meant to waken the residents of the autistic children’s home on the banks of the Ayalon? Or maybe it’s recorded music from the nearby sports club?

Last week, the riddle was solved: Next to a banged-up silver Mitsubishi crammed with stuff, at the edge of the Bavli neighborhood, stood a man playing the saxophone. Sheet music placed on the trunk, gold-colored reading glasses on his nose, fully engrossed in his playing. Who is this man? What brings him here every morning? He will apparently remain one of the secrets of the park, along with the stories of the growing number of Israelis living in trucks that have been converted to campers, amid the howling of the jackals in the park – another sound that startles listeners at dawn.

Yesterday the music man didn’t come. The saxophone fell silent and an eerie quiet settled in the park. As of this morning, the park should be deserted, by order of the authorities. Sorrow had already descended upon it yesterday. The sorrow of the joggers, of the bike riders, of the people who stroll and picnic in the park. Not many cities in the world have a park as magnificent and well-tended as Ganei Yehoshua. Perhaps now that Border Police cars will be patrolling and chasing away people who are wandering there (it already happened once the other day), Tel Aviv will truly appreciate this gem of a place that it has.

But the park closure is of course one of the mildest hardships that have landed on us. These days we are living through will leave a long-lasting impression. One day parents will tell their children, and grandparents will tell their grandchildren about the days of the pandemic.

Everything is changing at startling speed. Overnight, people who still consider themselves young, energetic and active have become ancient Eskimos abandoned by the side of the road, surplus members of a society that says they should be kept away, or at least imprisoned in their homes – for their own sake. Yes, of course, for their own sake. If we just keep away the old people, which now means anybody age 60 or more, everyone else can get back to normal.

In a flash, today’s 60 has become the new 80, just when we were quite enjoying the idea that 60 is the new 40. And young people who thought they were at the height of their success are crashing into an unfamiliar reality of unemployment and hardship, also overnight. Every venture out of the house is considered risky. Every person walking toward you has become a “suspicious object.” Going shopping in the supermarket feels akin to a suicide mission of infiltrating the Jenin refugee camp at the height of the intifada. Yesterday’s certainty is today’s unknown. The last expert you heard is always the most convincing. Catastrophe is imminent, or else it’s all a huge overreaction. Which is it? Who knows?

Last week, social worker Rosita Fulini wrote to me from her dying city, Bergamo, the hardest-hit city in Italy, that “afterwards” has now become the most abused phrase. No one knows when “afterwards” will be, and what it will be like. To which we may add: And what will be left of all this, afterwards? Meanwhile, yesterday at dawn a handsome jackal stood on the bank of the Yarkon gazing sadly at its reflection in the brown water. Heartbreaking.