Last Friday it wasn’t rainy or cold in Israel, so I went out to take a walk just as Shabbat was beginning. It was good just to be outside after weeks of social isolation and lockdown from COVID-19.
I was enjoying the fresh air when I heard singing. Looking around, I realized that across the street from my house people were standing in their front yards and on their porches praying together, singing the words of the prayers aloud. As I walked a little further and passed the bend in the road, I saw others on the next block, with their voices also raised in prayer.
I began to hear a continuing echo of words and melody as I walked. Every person, every family was in their own space, next to their own house, yet they were all together, welcoming the Shabbat as a community. I joined in as I returned to my own front yard.
Since the lockdown began, there have been no regular prayer services in the synagogue. But Saturday night when Shabbat ended, I turned on the news and I heard that a few changes had been made in the guidelines. Now, small groups of up to 19 people, standing the required distance apart, are allowed to have prayer services outside the synagogues. It is a welcome step in the right direction, and there was something very special about the front yard prayers.
Positive Changes in a Time of Crisis
These front yard and porch prayers have been taking place in many parts of the country. Although we have been practicing social distancing for the past six weeks, the mutual support and cohesiveness in my neighborhood is stronger and stronger with every passing day. While I cannot stand closer than six feet apart from my neighbors as we talk, our connection is stronger, as we meet next to our houses to discuss our frustrations and share practical advice about the issues we are facing as we cope with the coronavirus lockdown. Although we can’t be sure - as we can’t be sure about many things these days - the slight loosening of guidelines will hopefully let us return to some kind of routine, however slowly.
I have been working from home, but beginning next week, as the Israeli government carefully eases certain restrictions on movement, I will be able to return to The Fellowship’s Jerusalem office regularly twice a week. Yesterday, I was in the office briefly for a little while, my first time since the coronavirus.
It was wonderful to be in Jerusalem, come into the office, and see a few of my coworkers. On one hand everything felt the same, but on the other it felt very different. The COVID-19 pandemic is a real crisis and one that is not yet over, and we can’t experience a crisis without changing in some way. I hope they will be positive changes that will bring us closer together and make us more understanding and sensitive to the fact that, while we are all different, our needs are really the same - good health, food to eat, clothes to wear, a home where we are safe, and people who love us.
Miriam Lock is a staff member in The Fellowship’s Jerusalem office